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Monarch Butterfly Migration Update: March 21, 2002

Today's Report Includes:

Sudden Wave of Migration Crosses into Texas

What a week! And Harlen Aschen called it: "They may not be from the sanctuaries, but I did see two monarchs...,' he said tentatively on the 12th. Since then, over 72 sightings have flown in! (Special thanks to Mike Quinn of Texas Monarch Watch for scouring his state again this spring.) On March 15th, 18 sightings were reported on that single day. Last year at this time only 10 sightings had been reported from Texas, so the migration is clearly off to an earlier start.

Surface Map for March 15

"They're here!!!," exclaimed Charlotte Taylor of Palm School in Austin, TX. "I saw about 10 just south of Austin on March 15 as I was out checking on the milkweed that has just started to surface this past week. We've had southerly winds the past week with temps in the 70's and 80's until a cold front moved in--last night we had upper 40's. We will hopefully get rain out of the latest front for the milkweed. It is sparse but looks healthy. Most were about 3 inches to 7 inches in length. No eggs as of yet. Will keep ya'll posted..."

These maps show the March 15th cold front, and the wind direction during the previous 9 days. Why do you think there were so many sightings on the 15th?

More Monarchs Are On the Way!

Meanwhile, monarchs are traveling en masse through northern Mexico. Try to find these Mexican states on a map: Queretaro, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, and Coahuila.

While traveling for 6 days in Mexico's Sierra Madre Mountains, Derek Muschalek saw hundreds of monarchs on March 15 and March 16 in the state of Tamaulipas. "The Monarchs were nectaring on many different kinds of plants. They were flying solitary and not in groups or clusters. No attempt was made to count their actual numbers, but I saw about 5 Monarchs every 15 minutes in the field, from early morning to about 5:00pm on March 15 and 16. The weather on the 15 and 16 was dry, with southwesterly winds and the temperature hitting 100*F both days. Monarchs were common in the Sierra Madre Mountains and down along the Rio Sabinas River which is near the town of Ciudad Mante. There was lots of blooming Mexican Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) down along the river, but no Monarchs were observed using these plants for nectar or egg laying."

Translations Please!
Discussion of Challenge Question #12

Last week we asked what these observers in Queretaro saw, and what it tells us about monarch migration: "Ellos comentaron que a pesar de tener el viento soplando hacia el sur, las mariposas volaban siempre al norte."

"This is my first year taking Spanish, so I'm not that good," said Dylan of Ferrisburgh, VT, who went on to translate the phrase beautifully, with a little help from the website. "They commented that in spite of having the wind blowing toward the south, the mariposas always flew north."

These observations from northern Mexico remind us that monarchs have a strong drive to come north to breed at this time of year. Obviously, southerly winds give monarchs a free ride to the north. However, we can't say that monarchs ONLY migrate with south winds. You can investigate the relationship between wind and migration as you follow the migration this spring.

Is Monarch Habitat Ready for the Monarchs?

After the big freeze on March 4, many people in Texas were concerned. Milkweed was killed back by frost in many places. Monarchs have an uncanny ability to appear *just* as milkweed becomes available, as Charlotte Taylor noted above.
  • Do you think monarchs follow the milkweed as they migrate?
  • Will monarchs or milkweed arrive first where you live?

Make a prediction, then compare the milkweed and migration maps each week and see what we find.

Monitoring Habitat While You Wait
Spring Monarch Habitat Observations

Journey North is a study of migration and seasonal change. As spring moves across the continent, watch as the interrelationships in nature rebuild anew.

Try This!

Long before the migration reaches you, record how the monarchs' habitat is changing. Monitor the same site regularly leading up to the monarchs' arrival. On each visit, use the checklist below to record the date, photoperiod & temperature. Look for milkweed and sources of nectar. Each time you visit the habitat, predict when you think milkweed will emerge, when the first flowers will bloom and the when the first monarch will arrive.

My Monarch Habitat in Minnesota

This spring, I will take a picture of my monarch habitat each time I visit and record the changes. As you can see, on this first day of spring in Minnesota the ground is still covered with snow--and the ice on the nearby lake is 1 foot thick! It's a good thing the monarchs aren't here yet!

Date: March 20, 2002
12 hours, 7 minutes (Sunrise: 6:18, Sunset: 6:25)
High 36F, Low 25F, Average 30F
Buried under snow.
Not a drop anywhere!
My Predictions:
First milkweed: May 15, First flower: May 5, First monarch: May 20

Predicting the Path of the Monarch's Spring Migration
As the monarchs pour out of Mexico this spring, we're watching them spread across Texas. Where do you think they will appear next? New Mexico? Oklahoma? Arkansas? Louisiana? (You might be surprised!)

Print out the blank migration map below and draw the course you think the migration will take. Then record the names of the states where you think the butterflies will appear 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th etc. on your Migration Route Prediction Chart:

Challenge Question #13
"Send your list, in order, of the 15 states where you think the monarchs will appear next. Why do you think the migration will travel in the direction you predicted? Explain your reasoning!"

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

Monarchs and Spring Flowers: Photos Needed!
We do not have a single picture of a monarch nectaring at a spring flower for these pages! All of our best photos are taken in the fall, so we can't use them now. If you have spring monarch pictures you'd be willing to share, please send them our way:

Challenge Question #14:
"Why do you think it's so much easier to take pictures of monarchs on fall flowers?"

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

Monarchs on Fall-blooming Flowers

First Migration Update Sent to Sanctuary Area Schools

Escuela Cerro Prieto
These students' families own critical land in the Sierra Chincua sanctuary

This spring, as the butterflies fly over your homes, schools and cities, we're sending the news back to the students in Mexico so they can track the migration too. Journey North sends a FAX to Angangueo. Our coordinator there, German Medina, distributes the news to 15 schools in the surrounding mountains. In each classroom there's a migration map where students can track the monarch's journey all the way to Canada. Practice your Spanish! (Available in English, too.)

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Questions:

IMPORTANT: Answer only ONE question in each e-mail message.

1.Address an e-mail message to:
2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question # 13 (or #14).
3. In the body of EACH message, give your answer to ONE of the questions above.

The Next Monarch Migration Update Will Be Posted on March 28, 2002

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