10 Million Became 50 Million Monarchs
The Story Behind Changing Scientific Estimates
really don't know how many individual butterflies are in a monarch colony.
For almost twenty years, their best estimate was 10 million monarchs per
hectare* of forest. Then something happened that
caused them to raise their estimates 5 times higher, to as many as 50
million monarchs per hectare. Here is the story.
First Estimate: 10 Million
From the moment scientists saw the monarch colonies in Mexico, they have
wondered how many millions of monarchs were hanging from the trees. They
tried many clever ways to satisfy their curiosity without disturbing the
butterflies. They counted and weighed the butterflies on a single branch,
then counted the branches on the trees and made a colony-wide estimate.
They tagged and released
then recaptured some, and figured out a mathematical way to estimate the
total number in the colony. After many years, their best estimate was
10 million monarchs per hectare.
Bad Storm—But a Chance to Count Butterflies
of 2002, a terrific storm struck the monarch sanctuary region. Frozen
butterflies fell to the ground and most of Mexico's monarchs died that
winter. Dr. Lincoln Brower was one of the scientists on the scene. He
and teacher Dave Kust had the first and only chance to actually count
thousands of butterflies and make a more direct estimate.
Over 2,000 monarchs were counted in one square meter!
Courtesy of Dave Kust
New Estimate: 50 Million
In one place,
2,241 dead monarchs were counted in a single square meter. This would
make 22.41 million monarchs per hectare. Dr. Brower was astonished. This
was more than twice as high as the 10 million per hectare estimate—and
they were only counting butterflies on the ground. Many more living butterflies
still remained in the trees. Dr.
Brower made counts at other sites and found an even higher number. Now
scientists estimate there could be as many as 50 million monarch butterflies
in a hectare.
One hectare equals 2.47 acres.