Monarch Butterfly Migration Update: March 7, 2003
Field Notes from Mexico by Dr. Bill Calvert
March 4, 2003: Un Bosque Lleno de Mariposas
"The forest of Chincua was filled with butterflies sauntering forth from the colony, nectaring, drinking, but mainly just flying through the forest. If I were given the task of decorating a mountain forest I couldn’t conceive of a better arrangement than the green-blue fir trees, peppered with bright red salvias and giant thistles, saturated purple and yellow senicios, and butterflies softly and lazily gliding through it.
"The beauty that we witnessed may not portend well for the monarchs, however. It hasn’t rained in eastern Michoacan this year. The air is thoroughly dry, although somewhat cool. The landscape is parched, dried out. Fine dust is kicked up by natives, tourists, and their horses, and dust coats the vegetation along the trails.
"The two colonies are breaking apart, saltating down the canyon. They have moved 300-500 meters since last Tuesday. What appears to us as butterflies lazily gliding through the forest, may in fact be a more desperate situation: Butterflies low on fat reserves searching for something to eat and drink.
"The tempo of mating has definitely picked up. Pairs float down constantly. The ground struggle is everywhere visible. In the next three weeks, a relatively short time, these butterflies will vacate their winter haunt and begin the re-colonization of North America. An ambitious project, to be certain."
Challenge Question #9
Flying With the Butterflies by Carol Cullar
Compare and Contrast Ideas:
Similes, Metaphors and Analogies
Both of today’s authors wanted to convey the beauty they experienced at the monarch sanctuaries. Authors often connect unknown ideas with known concepts to help readers learn about a topic. What similes, metaphors and analogies can you find in their writing?
First graders Sonia and Emilze at Berry Elementary Environmental Science Magnet School in Houston, Texas think, "The cause of deforestation in the pictures is farming and housing.” Mrs. Swentzel's third grade class from Stanhope, NJ, said they studied the pictures carefully. “The students feel that the main cause of deforestation is from cutting down the forest so that the people of the area can use the land for farming. The pattern shows little fields sectioned off much like we see here in our area of Sussex County in North Eastern NJ,” they noticed.
Causes of Deforestation
"This is the size of the corn, so you can see it's not worth cultivating," says Jose Luis Alvaez, pointing to a stubby ear of corn only 3 inches long. Jose Luis is the Director of the Michoacan Reforestation Project (MRP). He explained that farmers are fighting a losing battle when they convert forest to agriculture. The expensive fertilizers needed on the poor soil make corn more expensive to produce that it’s worth. MRP encourages reforestation of these lands.
"Seventy percent of the natural land cover is forest in Michoacan. So that means that if you plant forests, you have no need for using insecticides, fertilizers or watering it because we have a perfect rainy season for forests." (See two video clips on web, in both Spanish and English.)
Deforestation is also causing severe erosion. During the dry season it isn’t obvious how deforestation affects the water supply, but MRP’s Ed Rashin explains. "The water in this stream is running very clear right now, but if you were here during the rainy season what you’d see is a torrent of mud and water coming down from the eroded hillsides. That’s another reason why we need reforested land."
It is not only the monarchs who need the forests! "Local inhabitants, especially women, consider water scarcity their main environmental problem," say Monica Misserie and Lincoln Brower. "Water shortages during the dry months are becoming more and more critical."
In next week’s update, we’ll show how Journey North students are helping MRP's deforestation efforts in the monarch region.
Alternare Workshops Teach Soil and Water Conservation
First Maps of the Season
Overwintering Monarchs & Milkweed
The migration is about to begin! These maps show where monarchs were found during the winter months, and where milkweed is now present.
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