of Cold, Wet Weather on Monarchs
Contributed by Dr. Bill Calvert
by snow, sleet, hail and high winds--is bad news for butterflies.
The physical actions of the wind, rain and the various forms of moisture
cause the clusters to become unstable. Butterflies peel off singly or
in groups and, since it is usually too cold for them to fly, they fall
to the ground. Sometime whole branches are blown down laden with butterflies.
Falling kills or injures only a few butterflies; most survive this insult.
Butterflies on the ground after a storm.
Brower, Sweet Briar College
the real problem comes AFTER the storm...
problem for them comes when the skies clear after the storm.
As heat escapes into the night sky, the ground and forest cool rapidly.
(This is called "radiational cooling.") If temperatures drop
to the mid-to low 20's (F) the butterflies begin to freeze to death. Monarchs
are essentially tropical butterflies and cannot tolerate sub-freezing
temperatures for very long.
Why do you suppose it is worse for a butterfly to be on the ground during
cold weather, instead of clustered in a forest? (Think about this before
Drops Can Be Dangerous
Cold, wet weather can be lethal for monarchs. Consider what happens:
temperatures take the air further below its dew point. (That is because
colder and colder air holds increasingly less moisture.) The colder
it gets, the more moisture drops out of the air in the form of dew.
As dew forms it coats the butterflies.
dew freezes, the water turns into ice crystals. These cause physical
damage to the butterflies. The ice crystals can puncture the butterfly's
body through the exoskeleton.
of course, has the same effect when it freezes.
Dew becomes frost when it freezes.
has sharp ice crystals that can puncture a butterfly's body
another reason it's bad for the butterflies to be on the ground in the
open: It's colder there. It is warmer in the forest amongst the dense
clusters of butterflies. This is because heat radiates from the trees
and from the butterfly masses themselves. (Dr. Lincoln Brower often says
the forest acts like a blanket and an umbrella, protecting the butterflies
from cold and moisture.)
Science Education Standards
Materials can exist in different states?solid, liquid, and gas. Some common
materials, such as water, can be changed from one state to another by
heating or cooling.(K-4)
Changes in environments can be natural or influenced by humans. Some changes
are good, some are bad, and some are neither. (K-4)