Monarch Butterfly Migration Update: February 7, 2002
Today's Report Includes:
We begin our season each year while the monarchs are at the over-wintering sites, deep in central Mexico. When their migration begins in March, we hope you'll help us track their journey north.
But not all monarchs migrate to the Mexican sanctuaries! Some monarchs can be found during the winter in northern Mexico, along the coasts of the U.S. Gulf States, and along the California coast. If you see monarchs in your region now, please report them as "Monarchs Over-wintering." We need to gather this information before the migration begins.
Beginning With Bad News:
Massive Storm Hits Monarch Sanctuaries
A massive storm hit the Mexican monarch sanctuaries during the weekend of January 12-13. The level of mortality appears to be quite high, and a large percentage the entire population may have been killed in the wake of this single storm.
Scientists and Mexican government officials are now cautiously analyzing mortality data. Great care must be
taken because, in the past, hastily-made mortality estimates were later found to have been exaggerated or untrue.
A formal statement will be released soon, and we will provide the information as soon as it is made public.
Storm Illustrates Danger of Heavy Deforestation
Monarch's Forest Like a Blanket and Umbrella
"The forest serves as an umbrella and a blanket for the monarchs."
Since you're already familiar with blankets and umbrellas, you can apply your knowledge to a question about monarch habitat. You may be surprised how helpful analogies can be when answering any challenging question.
On Sabbatical in Angangueo:
Dave Kust Documents Effect of Storm
"Had Dave not been on the scene and expressed such urgency we simply would not have been able to mobilize so quickly and gather the information needed," said Dr. Lincoln Brower, who just returned from assessing the damage in Mexico. "Incidentally, to give you an idea of the carnage, three of us turned up 9 tagged monarchs in 20 minutes while just looking down on the carpet of dead butterflies in the Chincua sanctuary. There will be hundreds of tags recovered this year," said Brower.
Dave has called in several times since the storm, and sent his field notes and pictures. Here are his observations:
"The weekend of 12 and 13 January was wet. I put out a bucket and on Sunday and measured 10 cm of rain in it. On Sunday afternoon it turned to snow up at higher elevations in the Chincua and Rosario sanctuaries.
"I went up to Chincua on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to check it out. On Monday, not much was moving in the colony, and the guide let me sneak a peek over the fence. Many butterflies were on the ground, about 3 layers thick, and under the mud in places. I think most were just knocked out of the trees and were waiting for the sun because on Tuesday things looked a lot better. Many were still dropping out of the trees from the cold but many more had climbed back up to the tops of shrubs. About 4 or 5 cm of snow were still on the ground.
"It was very cold too, only 24.9 F when I got off the bus at 8 am on Wednesday. There was heavy frost on
everything, and all standing water was frozen. It warmed up to 55 in the colony by 2 pm Wednesday. By late afternoon
Wednesday the whole understory and ground were covered with butterflies but many were also airborne. There was
still a lot of ice and patches of snow around.
What Would You Do?
Thinking on Your Feet
Dave knew that if the methods chosen were not accepted by other scientists, the conclusions will not be accepted as valid either. As luck would have it, Dr. Lincoln Brower was scheduled to arrive in a few days. We'll show you how the team dealt with the problem when the mortality study is released next week. In the meantime, consider one of the questions that was troubling Dave:
Meet the Kust Family!
After 20 years in the classroom, Minnesota teacher Dave Kust dreamed of taking a sabbatical and traveling south with the monarchs to Mexico for the winter. He wrote a proposal to his school and the administration granted his wishes. He and his family left Minnesota during last fall's migration. They drove all the way to Texas while the butterflies migrated overhead, then boarded a plane for the last leg of the trip, and reached the sanctuaries in time to witness the butterflies' arrival.
What's it like to live in Angangueo? As part of their holiday greeting, Kay and Dave reflected on the experience:
Things We?ve Had to Get Used to:
How to Respond to Today's Challenge Questions:
1. Address an e-mail message to: firstname.lastname@example.org