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Monarch Butterfly Migration Update: February 20, 2004

Today's Report Includes:

Field Notes from Mexico by Dr. Bill Calvert
Students visiting the sanctuaries with Dr. Calvert this week had a treat: as they drove, they came upon monarchs streaming off the mountainside. So many butterflies were crossing the road that traffic was slowed to a crawl. The only disappointment of the trip: The colonies at the two biggest over-wintering sites were found to be quite small after the January storm. Read and listen to the report Dr. Calvert phoned in from Mexico:
The Adventures of Dr. Brower and Grandson in Mexico
Dr. Brower and his grandson, Alex (14), returned late last night from Mexico. Alex dropped us a note first thing this morning. He’s now preparing a full account of his trip which we’ll post here with pictures in March. Thanks Alex!
Why Colonies Move: Seasonal History of a Monarch Colony
Meet Dr. Bill Calvert
Video Clip

In today’s report, Dr. Calvert said the mass movement they witnessed was probably the first big flight after the cold winter. Back in December and January, when the temperatures were the coldest, the butterflies were packed tightly on the trees. As many as 15,000 butterflies can be on a single branch--so many, that the branch actually bends under their weight! After mid-February the huge clusters begin to break up, or "bud." The monarchs spread down the canyons for nectar and water. Here Dr. Calvert describes the month by month changes in monarch over-wintering behavior, from November through March:
How Much Does a Bough-full of Butterflies Weigh?
It's hard to imagine butterflies heavy enough to break a branch!

Challenge Question #4:
"If the typical monarch weighs 500 mg in midwinter, how much would a branch loaded with 15,000 butterflies weigh? (Give your answer in kilograms and in pounds. Also name another object that weighs the same amount, for comparison.)"

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

Monarchs opening their wings in response to sunlight

Try This! How Many Paper Clips Bend a Branch?
A monarch butterfly weighs a little less than a paper clip. How many paper clips can you string together to make a tree branch bend? Try it and let us know.

How Much Space Does a Monarch Colony Need?
Challenge Question #5

According to Dr. Calvert's estimate, the area of the Chincua colony now appears to be only one half hectare. Many butterflies were killed this winter due to the wind and cold. How large is a half a hectare? Measure the area on your school grounds. Then consider the challenge of conserving habitat for butterflies as they move during the season.

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

Conservation Perspectives: A View from Mexico
Special thanks to Jordi Honey-Rosés for providing regular news from Mexico about monarch conservation efforts there. He works on these issues daily in his job with the World Wildlife Fund. We're fortunate to have his views about the many challenges and possible solutions.

What Can Be Done to Stop Illegal Logging?
In the first dispatch, Jordi notes that when reporters covered the story of monarchs killed by this winter's storm, they also had questions about illegal logging. After all, he says, "The organized and illegal extraction of trees is probably the primary threat to the habitat of
the Monarch Butterfly in Mexico."

Journaling Questions

  • What evidence of logging did the officials see as they flew over the monarch's forest?
  • Aside from efforts by the Mexican government, what 3 actions does Jordi say others can take to stop illegal logging?
In the Sierra Chincua Sanctuary. Sign reads, "Sanctuary of the Monarch Butterfly. Protect Them." Heading down the mountain from the Sierra Chincua. It's common to see logging trucks driving through Angangueo daily.

Monarch Butterflies and Giant Sequoias
Shared Greatness and Plight

Which are more important, people or butterflies? This is the question conservationists are often asked when attempting to save habitat for monarchs in Mexico. Here Jordi responds to that question with an historical perspective by way of comparing two natural wonders.

Journaling Questions

  • How many similarities can you find between huge sequoias and tiny butterflies?
  • How does Jordi defend his position that logging isn't solving the problem of local poverty? Who does he say benefits from the logging?

Tip for Teachers: Reading Strategies to the Rescue
Today's first-hand accounts from Mexico provide compelling, primary-source material for students. The reading strategies at the link below can help even young students with difficult vocabulary and content:

Life in the Monarch Sanctuary Region: Video Visit to the Molino
While butterflies still sleep high in the mountains under a starry sky, people in the valley below are already stirring. It's only 5 am when the women begin to prepare for their hungry families. Many people grow their own food in this part of the world. They take their corn to the mill where it will be fresh-ground into masa for the day's tortillas. Come in from the cold morning, hear the comforting chug-a-lug of the mill's engine, and feel the warmth of community among these life-long neighbors.

Tortillas From Scratch: Making Tortillas With Maria Luisa
Welcome to our home! It is small but humble. I invite you to stay awhile and learn how a typical Mexican family, living in the country, makes tortillas. We must start with an understanding of the seasons in our state of Michoacan. These seasons determine the way we can grow corn and eventually prepare tortillas.

Discussion of Challenge Question #3
Movies or Butterflies?

"Our class read about the economic impact the Monarch sanctuaries have on Mexico," said Mrs. Meeks 2nd grade class in Merkel, Texas. "We were interested to learn the pesos converted to our U.S. dollars would be $1.37 for adults and $.91 for children."

"To go to the movies here costs about $5.00 or $6.00 for a child. So we think it would be less expensive to visit the monarch butterfly sanctuary and it would be more fun than a movie!" added Mrs. Nunnally's second grade class at Peter Woodbury School in Bedford, New Hampshire.

Monarch Migration and National Science Standards
The monarch migration study brings a wide range of U.S. National Science Education Standards to life. Browse this Standards chart by content area, then link directly to 125 activities and information that address your teaching goals.

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 #4 (or #5)
3. In the body of EACH message, give your answer to ONE of the questions above.

The Next Monarch Butterfly Migration Update Will Be Posted on February 27, 2004

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