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Jim Gilbert

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Monarch Butterfly Update: April 21, 1998

Today's Report Includes:

Latest Migration News and Data
Latest Migration Map

Last week, the migration advanced significantly into the central Midwest states. And 4th grade student James D. of Fredstrom Elementary School reported the first sighting from the entire state of Nebraska! Here's his report from Lincoln, NE about his April 19th monarch observation:

"Dear Journey North,
The butterfly I saw was a female and was faded. One hind wing was slightly torn. I found it in my neighbor's yard. It was dark, cloudy and about 50 degrees about 5:00 p.m. It was just sitting in the grass. I brought it to my teacher and we released it."

The information James notes about the condition of the butterfly is important: It helps us determine how far from Mexico the over-wintering generation of monarchs has traveled this spring. To date, no observers have reported monarchs with fresh, brightly colored wings. (This would indicate newly emerged butterflies, of the 1st spring generation.) Thus, if you're wondering how far north the monarchs that winter in Mexico travel, look at your migration map. It is the answer for spring, 1998--so far.

Note to All Observers
Be sure to report the condition of the monarch's wings! Let's see how much further this generation goes--and watch for the first fresh monarchs of the next generation.

Spring Migration
1997 vs. 1998

Analyzing Weather and Monarch Migration
Six of the 7 sightings reported between April 13th and 19th were from Kansas and Nebraska. What weather conditions last week may have brought so many butterflies into these Midwest states? Compare the sightings dates against the weather conditions shown in these weather maps and see if you notice any patterns:

Symbolic Migration Update
Thousands of Butterflies Land in the North

Although they had a later start, the 40,800 symbolic monarchs have now passed the real ones. Their migration from Mexico took only 12 hours. They left Mexico City at 5:13 last night and arrived in Minneapolis at 5:40 this morning! You can track their migration every step of the way on the UPS WWW site.

Tracking Number for our Symbolic Butterflies: 3702-4444-963

Thanks For the Lift!
We encourage you to thank UPS for the free round trip ride to Mexico and back! Letters should be addressed and sent to:

Mr. Jim Meyer
District Manager
United Parcel Service
3312 Broadway Street N.E.
Minneapolis, MN 55413

On Saturday, volunteers will assemble at the Science Museum of Minnesota's Magnet School. There the butterflies will be prepared for the final leg of their migration. Remember, watch your mailbox:

Homecoming Set for Symbolic Monarchs: May 10, 1998

A Grand Total of 48,372 Symbolic Monarchs Spent the Winter in Mexico and Returned to the North Today

Wanted: Monarch Butterfly Sightings
...Beware of Imposters

As you search for the most wanted butterfly this spring, beware of an impostor! There's another butterfly out there that's disguised as a monarch. (Don't worry, it's not armed and dangerous to predators as monarchs are.) Viceroy butterflies look exactly like monarchs to the untrained observer. In fact, viceroys "mimic" monarchs in appearance, as a strategy against predation.

Here's how it works: As you know, monarch larvae eat milkweed. There is a white substance in the milkweed that contains a chemical which is toxic to many animals--but not to monarchs. This toxin carries over to the adult, and predators know to avoid eating monarch butterflies because of this poison. Because viceroys look so much like monarchs, they avoid being eaten too!

As we track the monarch butterfly migration each spring, we are always concerned about accurate identification. For example, how can we be sure people are not reporting the first viceroy they see? Pull out your field guide to butterflies and make sure you can tell the difference between monarchs and viceroys. Then place a call to your local nature center and see if they can help you answer these questions:

Challenge Question # 12
  1. When are viceroys first seen in the spring where you live?
  2. Where do viceroy butterflies spend the winter?
  3. At what stage of their life cycle do they overwinter, as an egg, larva or adult?
  4. What's the best field mark to distinguish between a monarch and a viceroy?

(To respond to this Challenge Question please follow the instructions at the end of this report.)

Discussion of Challenge Question #9
On April 7th we asked, "If we consider the peak of egg laying is now occurring in areas where monarchs have been spotted, what date would we expect to be the peak date for adults to emerge--and continue the journey northward?"

"I think the peak date for adults to emerge is Sunday, May 5, 1998," said Jess Paro of Great Brook School in Antrim, NH. "First I added up the lower amount of days. Then I added up the higher amount of days. Then I took the date that was in the middle."

For this reason, we expect a lull in sightings at this time each year. The chart below shows that a monarch takes between 20 and 32 days to develop. As Jess figured, we can expect it to be early May when the eggs that were laid in early April become adults. (Of course it's important to remember that monarchs are at various stages of development all across their range.)

Stage Develpm't. Time Fastest Average Slowest

3-5 days





9-14 days





8-13 days




Total Days

20-32 days




Peak Date 1st Generation

  04/27/98 05/03/98 05/09/98

Reminder: Restore and Protect Monarch Habitat--At Home and in Mexico

Many of you are aware that Lincoln Brower, Karen Oberhauser and Elizabeth Donnelly recently established the Monarch Butterly Sanctuary Foundation (MBSF). The mission of this organization is to help protect monarch overwintering habitat in Mexico.

So that schools can help raise funds for this effort, arrangements have been made with the Community Butterfly Gardens Project. This project introduces butterfly gardening to families through "starter kits" for butterfly gardens, and some of the proceeds will be donated to the MBSF for conservation work in Mexico.

Photo by Jim Gilbert
The starter gardens come with complete planting instructions, a list of other excellent butterfly plants, and a color butterfly garden book. Parents order the boxed kits from order sheets brought home by students (like a book club). The ordering process is very simple and takes only two weeks from the initial contact.

This is a wonderful opportunity to improve conditions for monarchs--in the U.S and Canada, and at the overwintering sites in Mexico as well.

If you are interested in this opportunity, please contact Randy Korb at: or 1-800-799-8189

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Question
1. Address an e-mail message to:
2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question # 12
3. In the body of the message, answer the question above.

The Next Monarch Butterfly Migration Update Will be Posted on April 28, 1998.

Copyright 1998 Journey North. All Rights Reserved.