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Monarch Migration Update: September 27, 2002

Today's Report Includes:

First Monarchs Sighted in the Sanctuary Region

This news just in: The very first monarchs--only two--were spotted beneath the Sierra Chincua Sanctuary on Monday, September 23rd. People in Angangueo have been watching and waiting. Every day German Medina, who coordinates the Symbolic Migration in the region, has been visiting sites where monarchs first cluster. These sites are all on small hills ("cerritos") outside of, and below, the actual sanctuaries.

"I talked to some native persons during my trip to these places and they said that the first butterflies arriving to this region usually appear after September 25. They settle in 'Los Cedros,' followed by some others settling in 'La Canada' and last of all in 'El Cerrito.'"

Are These Early Migrants?
The first waves of monarchs don't typically reach Mexico until mid to late October. After an early report from the sanctuaries last year, biologist Bill Calvert summarized his thoughts. One possibility: "They may simply be a few monarchs that breed locally in the area and have wandered into the region," he said. "It seems like each year observations generate more questions. But each time they also clarify our understanding of the biology of this most interesting insect."
Highlights Along the Migration Trail
Millions and millions of monarchs are a long way from Mexico! Here this week's highlights:

09/25/02 Hammond, OK
An overnight roost was discovered by Hammon Elementary's Third Grade class! They "caught, tagged and released 100 Monarch butterflies as they were roosting in trees this morning."

09/23/02 Enid, OK
Special thanks to Elbert Wheeler for sending these photos of monarchs resting in Enid, Oklahoma while on their way to Mexico! Monarchs started arriving Sunday the 22nd, had increased into the hundreds by Monday evening, and were still there as of Thursday evening, the 26th.

From San Antonio, Richardson, Carrollton, Midland, and Tye, Texas came sightings of first monarchs during the past week. Several noted that the monarchs were reproductive. Only recently have biologist learned, from observations like these, that monarchs produce a generation in the late summer/early fall in the south.

"We saw our first monarch of the season in Richardson. She was a female monarch laying eggs on milkweed plants in the field that we monitor. We have been monitoring our field weekly, and were excited to finally find monarchs!"

Monarchs continue to come down from the north, ultimately to funnel through Texas and beyond:

09/24/02 Mississauga, ON
While kayaking at sunset on Lake Ontario, Rod Murray witnessed a "reverse migration." He saw the monarchs turn back, and head north, instead of crossing. "Literally dozens were flying from way out on the lake to the north shore. This occurred at about 6:00 pm EDT as the sun was starting to descend," he said.

09/23/02 Vineland, ON
Kim Barrett saw a huge concentration of monarchs near the south shore of Lake Ontario on Monday. "There were hundreds, possibly thousands of butterflies in the area. The butterflies were undoubtedly at various body temperatures- some were flying around (some strongly, some weakly) and others appeared to be actively trying to raise their temperature (basking on the bald cypress trees and some vibrating their wings). Quite an amazing spectacle. Today, there is not a monarch to be found- I wonder how far they got?" Thanks to Kim for sharing these photos of monarchs getting ready to fly from Ontario:

09/23/02 Cape May Point, NJ
Dick Walton reports, "We had a large movement of monarchs into Cape May on the afternoon of September 23th." Data for the first three weeks of our Road Census is posted on the Cape May Monarch Census website.

Joining the stream are monarchs that have been raised and released by students.

09/20/02 Rye, NH
As the first grade class at Rye Elementary released their newly hatched monarch "another couple of monarchs came flying by. Good timing!" they said. "They flew off together."

09/18/02 Madbury, NH
Not far away in Madbury, NH students at Moharimet School shared the same experience! "We raised 3 Monarch caterpillars in our class. While releasing them this afternoon, we observed several other Monarchs flying in a southerly direction. We hope our three will join them. "

Hurricanes and Other Hazards
After witnessing a nice migration in San Antonio, TX (an average of two butterflies/minute) and with Hurricane Isidore brewing nearby, Bright Star Academy wrote,

"The kids wondered whether the storm system brought on by Hurricane Isidore, would keep the monarchs in our inland area longer, or if they would pass through our area at a faster rate. "

Good question! This satellite view shows the wind patterns associated with the tropical storm. How might the hurricane system affect monarchs trying to head south?

Every fall, hurricane season occurs during migration. We've heard some interesting stories. In 1999, monarchs were apparently blown to England after Hurricane Floyd! We've also seen the effect on other species. A peregrine falcon being tracked by satellite was caught crossing the Caribbean during Hurricane Mitch. After almost reaching Venezuela it was blown back to Cuba. Even underwater, manatees are affected. During Hurricane Floyd, a manatee moved into a sheltered canal along with boats that were seeking safe harbor.

Try This!
Identify the Many Challenges Monarchs Must Survive

Migration is a survival story. The monarchs now traveling must survive two legs of migration and a long winter in Mexico. Other than hurricanes, what hazards can you identify? Start a list today and see how many examples you can add this year! (Make a column for each season: Fall, Winter and Spring)
Migration is Not for Babies: Challenge Question #5

Every now and then, we receive migration reports rom observers who say they have sighted baby monarchs migrating. These observations are sent from people who are new to Journey North, and who are just beginning to learn about monarch biology. Their comments bring a challenging question to mind:

Challenge Question #5
"How would you explain to a person who's new to tracking monarch migration why it's impossible to see a baby monarch migrating? (Hint: Include a description of the monarch life cycle in your answer.)

(To respond to this question, please follow the instructions below.)

Migration Math: Discussion of Challenge Question #4
Congratulations to Ms. West's students in Poth, Texas for another terrific Challenge Question solution! Here's how they did it:

"Our class compared the observers' sightings by changing each one to how many butterflies they saw per hour. Starting with who saw the most butterflies to the fewest, here is our migration math:

  • Observer #2: 120 monarchs/hour
  • Observer #4: 100 monarchs/hour
  • Observer #1: 72 monarchs/hour
  • Observer #6: 36 monarchs/hour
  • Observer #3: 34 monarchs/hour
  • Observer #5: 13 monarchs/hour

Symbolic Migration Reminder: Deadline is October 11

The countdown continues, with only 14 more butterfly-making days until the October 11th postmark deadline.

Butterfly-Making Tip: Your new Mexican friends are eager to learn all about you! For extra writing space, make a tiny envelope and glue it under the butterfly's wing. Insert a letter inside.

"But won't this tip make the butterfly 3 dimensional and therefore ineligible for the program?," asked a considerate Connecticut teacher.

In fact, a few decorations are fine. And it's always fine to add a letter. We just can't have butterflies built from clay, pipe cleaners, wire, and other bulky 3D materials. We're looking forward to seeing your creations!

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Question

1. Address an e-mail message to:
2. In the Subject Line write: Challenge Question #5
3. In the body of the message, answer the question above.

The Next Monarch Migration Update Will Be Posted on October 4, 2002.


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