When monarchs roost

André-Philippe Drapeau Picard: Thursday, October 10, 2019

It’s autumn, and monarchs are gradually heading south. During their migration they make stops, sometimes in large numbers. Let’s take a look at the astonishing phenomenon of monarch roosting.

by André-Philippe Drapeau Picard, Mission Monarch coordinator

To read this article, please visit the Space for Life website.

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Make it count!

André-Philippe Drapeau Picard: Tuesday, August 27, 2019

In the information and mobile-technology age, it’s easier than ever to immortalize the spectacles that nature presents. Were you aware that when you share your observations of animal, plant and other species you could be contributing to advances in scientific knowledge?

by André-Philippe Drapeau Picard, Mission Monarch coordinator

To read this article, please visit the Space for Life website.

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Let’s leave the monarchs in their habitat

André-Philippe Drapeau Picard

Monarchs are sometimes collected in their natural habitat so that they can be reared in captivity. A number of breeders want to help the endangered species by doing just that. Nevertheless, it’s not certain that this activity actually helps monarchs – on the contrary…

by André-Philippe Drapeau Picard, Mission Monarch coordinator

To read this article, please visit the Space for Life website.

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Why save the monarch butterfly?

André-Philippe Drapeau Picard: Wednesday, May 22, 2019

 

Across North America, considerable resources are being invested in protecting the monarch butterfly, the migratory populations of which have dropped substantially in the last twenty years. But why go to so much trouble? Is one species worth all that effort?

 

by André-Philippe Drapeau Picard, Mission Monarch coordinator

 

To read this article, please visit the Space for Life website.

 

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What’s the monarch’s favorite milkweed?

André-Philippe Drapeau Picard: Wednesday, February 27, 2019

 

 

 

In North America there are over 90 species of milkweed, four of which are native to Québec. Are monarch butterfly females more attracted by certain milkweed species when it comes to laying their eggs? Researchers conducted two experiments to answer that question.

 

pby André-Philippe Drapeau Picard, Mission Monarch coordinator

 

To read this article, please visit the Space for Life website.

 

 

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The monarchs have left

André-Philippe Drapeau Picard: Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Faithful to instinct, the monarchs have hit the road for Mexico. The autumn migration is a great adventure, but one that only an estimated half of the butterflies survive. And with climate change, the challenge they face is even greater…

by André-Philippe Drapeau Picard, Mission Monarch coordinator

To read this article, please visit the Space for Life website.

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The 2018 Blitz by numbers

André-Philippe Drapeau Picard: Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The 2018 edition of the Blitz took place from July 28 to August 5. This year again, it was a success! Thanks to those who shared observations of monarchs and milkweeds during that period, we broke last year’s records. Here are some numbers demonstrating the energy invested by Mission monarch participants during the Blitz.

by André-Philippe Drapeau Picard, Mission monarch coordinator

24,831

That’s the number of milkweed plants that were monitored looking for caterpillars. It’s more than twice as much as last year! As monarchs only lay eggs on this plant, it is essential to know its distribution to find the butterfly’s breeding hotspots. Thus, it is important to share your milkweed observations, even if no monarch were found!

2,237

This is the number of caterpillars that were observed on milkweed plants. It’s almost ten times as much as last year! In fact, monarchs are very abundant this summer. It’s a good sign, but it doesn’t mean the population is re-established. Don’t forget that last December in Mexico, the population was at its lowest in three years.

241

That’s the number of participants. In other words, it’s you! You were almost twice as numerous as last year!

322

Finally, here is the number of locations where observations were made. Those sites are distributed in seven Canadian provinces and nine American states. Not bad! The larger the territory covered by your observations, the better our knowledge of monarch and milkweed distributions during the butterfly’s breeding period.

The 2018 Blitz is now over, but monarchs will still be around for a couple of weeks before they undergo the migration to Mexico! Keep an eye open and continue to share your observations until the end of the fall.

The Monarch Monitoring Blitz is an initiative of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation. It was organized by the Insectarium/Montréal Space for Life, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Monarch Joint Venture, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Mexico’s Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas.

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Monarchs are here!

André-Philippe Drapeau Picard: Wednesday, May 30, 2018

They’re back! On May 2, the first Canadian monarch observation of 2018 was reported. The butterfly was seen at Point Pelee National Park. How does this observation compare with past years? Let’s take a look at the archives…

by André-Philippe Drapeau Picard
Mission monarch coordinator

Monarch nectaring on a goldenrod (Solidago sp.). Photo: André Sarrazin

In spring, some people seem seized with fever and exhibit strange behaviors. They are seen wandering in open areas, equipped with binoculars and huge cameras, actively looking around as if they were being watched. Those are the symptoms of the monarch fever!

In fact, many are impatiently waiting for monarchs to show up. The butterflies we saw leaving last fall have spent the winter in Mexico, in the sacred fir forests. In March, they left those overwintering sites and undertook their northward migration. However, monarchs arriving in spring in Canada are not those who left Mexico, but their descendants born in the United States.

A marsh at Point Pelee.
A marsh at Point Pelee National Park.

In Canada, first yearly monarch observations come from Ontario. In the Ontario Butterfly Atlas, which contains several thousand monarch records, a third of the first sightings happened in the Point Pelee National Park. This is first due to the fact that this park is the southernmost point of this province – and of Canada. Second, because Point Pelee extends into Lake Erie, it is the narrowest passage for crossing this Great Lake.

The Ontario Butterfly Atlas includes fifty years of monarch records. On average, first monarchs are observed on May 13, with a 20 days standard deviation. Thus, seeing one on May 2, like this year, is a little early but not exceptional. In fact, 11 out of the 48 first sightings were made in April!

How about Québec?

In Québec, monarchs arrive about a month later. Based on observations submitted to eButterfly, first sightings are made around June 13 on average. When will it be this year? We will know soon! Keep an eye open…

It is important to monitor migrating species, especially those of special concern such as the monarch, to predict challenges they may face. Climate change, for example, can modify migration patterns and accelerate plant growth, leading to a mismatch between migrants and their food ressources.

That invaluable information is known thanks to thousands of enthusiasts like you who share their observations on citizen science platforms such as Mission monarch. In the end, the monarch fever is a good thing!

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Monarch population drops by 15%

André-Philippe Drapeau Picard: Monday, March 5, 2018


Last evaluation shows Eastern monarch population has dropped by 15% since last year. These worrisome numbers emphasize that more work is needed to understand and protect the migratory monarch, which is at risk of extinction.

By André-Philippe Drapeau Picard
Mission monarch coordinator

Since a historical peak in 1997, the Eastern migratory monarch population has declined by 80%. This tendency, especially observed on overwintering grounds in Mexico, has alarmed governments and environmental groups across North America. In Canada, the butterfly was designated «special concern species» in 1997, then «endangered species» in 2016. Winter of 2013-2014 was the lowest year in terms of area, monarchs covering only 0,67 hectare. This year, the butterflies occupied 2,48 ha, which is the lowest record in three years.

Common milkweed, on which the monarch caterpillar feeds, has largely declined in the American Midwest.

What’s the matter?

The numbers published today are worrying. Last summer, monarchs were relatively abundant; thus we were expecting this abundance to be reflected in overwintering populations. This leads to believe something happened during migration. Did the late migration many monarchs went on had such an impact? Was it the consequence of extreme meteorological events on the way? It is too early to say.

Generally speaking, monarch decline is attributed to several causes: pesticide use, milkweed reduction, logging, climate change… Since the butterfly travels over great distances, through varied landscapes, it comes across obstacles of different nature. This a real puzzle for scientists and policy makers, who have to put all the pieces together in order to implement an efficient conservation plan.

But one thing is clear, migratory monarch populations are declining, and the faith of the migratory phenomenon is at risk. Researchers recently calculated that Eastern population quasi-extinction risk is near 60% over 20 years, according the worst-case scenario. To avoid this, the target in an overwintering area of 6 ha, which is more than twice what was observed this year.

There’s still work to be done

These numbers show there is still work to be done in order to understand and protect the monarch. To achieve this, we must go on research and habitat protection. Sharpening our understanding of the monarch biology and the factors affecting its survival will make it possible for us to give it adequate protection.

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Monarch summit meeting

André-Philippe Drapeau Picard: Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Participants at the Monarch Butterfly Research and Monitoring Workshop. Photo: Marie-Claude Rouillard (CEC)

The Monarch Butterfly Research and Monitoring Workshop was held in Montreal from February 6 to 8. Monarch conservation experts from Canada, Mexico, and the United States met to review the state of knowledge and define subsequent research priorities. Here is a summary of this busy trinational meeting.

By André-Philippe Drapeau Picard
Mission monarque coordinator


Save the monarch; sure, but how? To halt populations decline and preserve the migration phenomenon, we need to understand the challenges the monarch faces all along its migration corridor. Even if it’s one of the world’s most studied insects, several questions remain unanswered. Here are examples of questions tackled last week by the experts at the workshop hosted by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

Common milkweed, one of the plants visited by the adult monarch.

 

Sharing the data

While Mission monarch is the only monarch-dedicated citizen science project in Canada, the United-States and Mexico have many. Researchers from all three countries agreed on the importance of making their databases compatible and of putting together all information collected to date.

 

Document nectar resources

Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed, but adults gather nectar from several flowering plants. Is nectar, the butterfly’s only energy source, available in sufficient amount during crucial steps of the insect’s life, such as egg laying and migration? Is the monarch competing with other insects for this sugar-rich liquid? To answer these questions, we first need to know which plants are visited by monarchs and, once identified, determine their distribution and abundance. Finally, we will have to predict, using statistical models, how blooming time and duration will evolve with climate change. With this information, it will be possible to identify the regions and periods where nectar could lack and manage habitats accordingly.

 

The caterpillar eats the milkweed on which its egg was laid.

Know your origins

Where are monarchs born? To this day, tagging has been the most used method to address this question. Unfortunately, of all tagged butterflies, only a little more than 1% is recovered and thus, bring precious data on their origin. An alternative approach consists in the study of isotopic signature. Molecules that compose monarch wings come from the milkweed eaten by the caterpillar on breeding grounds. Some of these molecules bear a «signature»; in other words, they are specific from the place they come. This method is powerful in that it reveals the natal origin of any given monarch, not only those that were tagged. Knowing the butterfly’s breeding grounds is essential for the protection of the species.

Researchers have a lot on their plate! Until the next monarch conservation trinational workshop, planned next year, those questions and more besides will keep them busy. Meawhile, the Mission monarch team is preparing for another summer rich in missions with you! Your observations will contribute directly in answering the questions tackled during the workshop.