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Monarch Migration Update: October 18, 2002

Today's Report Includes:

Field Notes from the Monarch Sanctuary Region in Mexico
At least six butterflies reached the finish line last week, according to German Medina. Great masses of monarchs are expected soon, say the local people: "La mayoría de la gente en La Cañada, Los Cebados y Los Cedros me contó que les extrañaba no haber visto ninguna otra mariposa, pues parece ser que el año pasado habían muchas más que las que se están avistando en estos días."
These reports from German Medina and Estella Romero are faxed each week from the Romero's store in downtown Angangueo.
German Medina
He uses this truck to take tourists up the mountain to see the monarchs
The Angangueo skyline

The Romero family store, located in downtown Angangueo
(1995 photo)

Highlights Along the Migration Trail

Cold Front Pushes Monarchs into Texas and Across the Border
In the wake of the season’s strongest cold front to date, a sudden flurry of reports arrived from Texas and nearby states during the past week. And, south of the U.S. border, came first sightings from many, including Rocio Trevino, the woman who watches the most carefully there. Read on!

10/12/02 Ballinger, TX
Tens of thousands of monarchs were sighted in and around the Ballinger, Texas area Saturday, October 12th. Big, healthy butterflies were active along creek beds of the Colorado River, with vast numbers roosting in the cedar trees of Evergreen Cemetary. As winds shifted mid-afternoon out of the north, for our first "real" cold front, they were all gone, on a wing and a prayer.

10/12/02 Menard, TX
As a cold front came in I was sitting on the front porch and suddenly there were at least a hundred monarchs flying around the trees at my house.

10/12/02 Texarkana, AR
The monarchs made it to our area on Saturday, October 12. We counted almost 300 monarchs in a period from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM. The monarchs would come up over the spillway and down into a field of goldenrod to feed. The day started out sunny but clouds had moved in. As long as the clouds stayed in the area the monarchs came down to feed. When the sun came out again they all seemed to leave headed south to southwest.

10/11/02 Henrietta TX
THE MONARCHS ARE MIGRATING! I would say at least 10 per minute for about ten miles. They were heading South and not flying high enough so lots were being hit by cars, mine included. At 70 mph you just can't get out of the way! I had three in my driveway when I came home. I have only had one migration here in 7 years where there were thousands per second, truthfully, flying in herds across my property.

10/14/02 Camp Wood, TX
Between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., hundreds and hundreds of Monarchs descended on the top of the Pecan trees by the Nueces River and started roosting in the top of one of the tallest Pecan trees. Since prior to this time, I had seen only three over a space of two weeks, I did not expect to see much if any of the migration activities. They were flying so high up that they looked like mosquitoes in the sky. If you know how high Hawks and Vultures fly, that is how high these butterflies were.

10/15/02 Monterrey, NL
Saludos desde Monterrey!! On Tuesday October 15th evening (19:00hrs), as I left my office and was walking in downtown Monterrey by the main square known as Macroplaza (Big Square), I saw the first few scattered individual Monarchs hovering at treetop level(15/25 feet).

10/14/02 Saltillo, Coahuila
For more than a week of going out to look for butterflies not until noon today did I see my first Monarch Butterfly. A single one! Flying about 15 meters high, slowly and with its beautiful wings in a V. I am sending you the reports of sightings from the members of Correo Real, who have seen very few butterflies. In past years by the 11th of October, we see butterflies by the dozens and now, no.

Monarchs Traveling Through Coahuila, Mexico
Photos courtesy of Rocio Trevino

About Rocio Trevino, Founder of Correo Real
Rocio Trevino
Founder of Correo Real

With the help of school children, Senora Rocio Trevino tracks the monarch migration across northern Mexico through the program she founded called “Correo Real.” Years ago, people thought the streams of monarchs passing over her town of Saltillo, Coahuila, were invading insects. Children had contests to see who could kill the most! Senora Trevino now educates people about the significance of the monarch migration. Networked computers are rare in these schools, so she collects sightings the hard way--primarily through mail. This is why she named the program "Correo Real," which is Spanish for "Royal Mail." Can you find Saltillo, Coahuila on a map?
Keeping Count: How Many Mexican States So Far?
How many Mexican states will the monarchs pass through? For those keeping count, we’ve now received reports from 3 states. Can you name them?
Monarchs in Pecan Trees?! Challenge Question #10
When the migration moves through Texas each fall, we hear about huge clusters of monarchs in pecan groves. There’s an interesting reason for this, but it requires some detective work:

Challenge Question #10:
“Why do you think so many monarchs are found in pecan trees in Texas? (Clue: There’s a food chain connection between monarchs and insects called 'aphids.' Aphids are soft-bodied insects that feed on sap from many plants, including pecan leaves. Learn more about aphids to answer this question.)”

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

Not All Monarchs Make it to Mexico
Washed Ashore in Florida
Ms. Laura Witkiewicz witnessed one of the hazards of migration when visiting Panama City Beach, Florida on October 10. Thousands of dead monarchs littered the beach.

“We walked .7 mile from our hotel to the pier, and there were probably 25 dead monarchs per yard on the beach. I figured they must have had trouble as a group while migrating. Can you comment on this please?”

We contacted Mr. Richard RuBino, who’s also based neaby on Florida’s Panhandle. He conducts the annual monarch census at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, in St. Marks, FL. He has a very interesting hypothesis as to why the monarchs might have washed ashore, based on his own tagging experiences:

“The tropical storm (the previous week) could well have forced migrating monarchs down into the water and then washed them ashore,” he speculated. “In the fall, monarchs are frequently found hundreds of miles out in the Gulf on boats and oil platforms. It rather corroborates my hypothesis that many of the monarchs migrating down to the Gulf coast try to fly across the Gulf to Mexico.”

Monarch With Tag
Photo: Gayle Kloewer

Importantly, of the nearly 12,500 monarchs he has tagged at St. Marks Refuge in ten years, only three have been found in Mexico. This is far, far below the ratios recorded elsewhere. According to Dr. Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch, nearly 1% of all monarchs tagged are found at the sanctuaries in Mexico. Let’s compare the Florida results:

Challenge Question #11:
“If 1% of the monarchs Mr. RuBino tagged on the Florida Panhandle had been recovered in Mexico, how many recoveries would you expect? In reality, only 1 in ___ of the St. Marks, FL monarchs has been recovered in Mexico. (Remember: 1% means one in every one hundred, 10 in every thousand, 100 in every ten thousand, etc.)”

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

How Many Monarchs?
Discussion of Challenge Question #8

Last week German Medina told us about the first migratory monarchs he saw: "A mitad de camino, en un valle, me encontré súbitamente con una mariposa monarca--luego dos, y otra detrás de ellas." We ask you to count how many.

This question was a hard one, but Mrs. McCabe's 5th grade class in Midland, TX knows how to count mariposas monarcas, as they’re called in Spanish:

“Our class thinks German Medina saw four monarchs. He saw 'un'(one), then 'dos' (two), then another (y otra). That would be four total.”

Monarch Miles per Hour: Discussion of Challenge Question #9
Last week we had news about a monarch that was tagged in Arkansas and recaptured 3.5 hours later 6.75 miles away. We asked, “Assuming it flew the entire time, how many miles per hour did the Arkansas monarch travel?”

Brian M. from Mrs Lodge's science class at RHAM Middle School in Hebron, CT divided 6.75 miles by 3.5 hours to get 1.9 mph. Nice work, Brian!

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Question

1. Address an e-mail message to:
2. In the Subject Line write: Challenge Question #10 (or #11).
3. In the body of the message, answer the question above.

The Next Monarch Migration Update Will Be Posted on October 25, 2002.


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