Time to celebrate!

André-Philippe Drapeau Picard: Friday, December 15, 2017

By Daphné Laurier Montpetit
Coordinator of the Mission Monarch project

With the holidays approaching, we can only raise our glasses to the participants of Mission Monarch! For this second year of existence, the project has exceeded expectations.
Dear citizen scientists, here’s to you!

2017 overview

Many of you have mobilized for the monarch. This year alone, you have conducted more than 1000 missions on 423 different locations. A total of 31,519 milkweeds were scanned for monarchs. These figures represent more than double (and sometimes triple) of last year’s results.

And the monarchs were there! We count 882 mentions of caterpillars and 2443 mentions of adults. Although some identifications remain to be confirmed, we can say that this summer was rich in monarchs! Hopefully, this trend will be confirmed in the official annual count, to come early in 2018.

Heads of Mission

Another good news reinforces our pride, at the end of this year. In July, we launched, for the first time, a Head of mission training tour in Ontario. More than 100 participants attended a two-hour workshop to learn how to organize group missions in their area.

The tour was a success, and will definitely be back next year. If you are interested in taking this free training, email us!
We have a lot to celebrate at the end of the year, before we start again in a new season, and we thank you!

We wish all of our participants a wonderful holiday season and a great new year. We look forward to seeing you in 2018, for a new year, filled with milkweed!
Happy Holidays!

The Mission Monarch Team

What do monarchs do during winter?

André-Philippe Drapeau Picard: Friday, November 10, 2017

by Daphné Laurier Montpetit
Mission Monarch coordinator

We see them go away – with some sadness – in fall. We know that they will be migrating for thousands of kilometers, and that their descendants will be back with the summer. But what’s going on between fall and spring? What do monarchs do during winter?

Heading South

Monarchs spend the winter in central Mexico mountains, in the states of Michoacán and Mexico. Year after year, they find shelter in the sacred fir forests. Mexico may evoke sun, heat and beaches, but the butterflies prefer a whole other environment!

Since monarchs can’t bear winter temperatures in the United States and Canada, they migrate south to avoid freezing. However, they are not looking for hot weather, but rather cool places.

The goal of the migration is to find the perfect climeate: warm enough to avoid freezing, but cold enough to allow the butterflies to survive until spring. Thus, the temperature in the overwintering areas varies between 1 and 6°C.

Put in on pause… for the diapause!

Under warmer temperatures, monarchs would keep their normal metabolic rate. For example, in summer, adult monarchs live for one month. Then how can they survive over seven winter months and still be able to reproduce in spring?

Monarchs of the migrating generation have a couple biological tricks to live that long. One of these ticks is the diapause, a period of time during which development stops. It’s a kind of dormancy, allowing the buttefly to spare its fat reserves, stretching its lifetime. The cool temperatures in the overwintering sites allow this important metabolic slowdown.

A fragile equilibrium

This perfect environment where monarchs spend the cold season is unfortunately very delicate, and several factors trouble its equilibrium. One of them is logging, inside or around overwintering areas, since it can result in a higher exposition to wind and, consequently, higher temperature fluctuations.

Climate change also worries researchers. Warmer temperatures could affect diapause as well as disrupt the internal compass which the monarchs need for migrating. Storm frequency is espected to increase with climate change, which greatly disturb the diapause, as it did in spring of 2016, when millions of monarchs were killed during a snow storm.

Despite the challenges, the butterflies are back once again at the sites visited by their ancestors, ready for another winter. The Mission monarch team is already looking forward to see them back. Are you?

Photo: Anita Ritenour

How do monarchs find their way?

André-Philippe Drapeau Picard: Thursday, October 19, 2017

By Daphné Laurier Montpetit
Mission monarch coordinator

The monarchs of North America are known for their spectacular annual migration from Canada to Mexico. Each fall, the butterflies undertake a 4000 km journey to the oyamel fir forests, in central Mexico, where they spend the winter. Once spring arrives, they are off again for a northern migration that will spread over several generations.
If the distance traveled by the monarchs is impressive, their ability to find their way is no less! How do monarchs navigate to their destination, year after year?

A sophisticated internal compass

Not all monarchs are drawned to the South. In experiments using a flight simulator, only the “fall” butterflies demonstrated a clear direction in flight. Instinctively, they head southwest.

Migratory monarchs rely on the sun to know the direction to follow. However, since its position changes during the day, the simple observation of the sun is not enough. Imagine the zig-zag that a butterfly would do just by following the sun, every day, from east to west!

To solve this problem, migratory monarchs rely on a biological clock, located in the antennas. This clock tells them the time of day. With this information, the butterflies can adjust their position relative to the sun, in order to maintain the course towards the southwest: in the morning, they keep the sun to their left and in the afternoon, to their right.

These two combined information – the position of the sun and the time of day – constitute the internal compass enabling the monarchs to navigate to Mexico.

What about cloudy days?

Occasionally clouds hide the sun, depriving the monarchs of their visual cue. Fortunately, butterflies have more than one trick up their sleeve!
In addition to the biological clock, the indispensable antennas of the butterfly contain a “magnetic compass”. This tool tells monarchs where they are in relation to the equator. They can therefore find their way to the south by relying on the lines of the earth’s magnetic field. Impressive, right?

Heading north!

In spring, everything changes! The monarchs who spent the winter in Mexico go on migration, but this time, in the opposite direction. The same mechanism comes in, but with a major change: the internal compass has been recalibrated, during the winter, to indicate the north. It is believed that exposure to cold triggers this recalibration.
Several mysteries still surround the navigation methods of monarchs and each season unveils new answers. Certainly, these great travelers will never cease to amaze us!

The Monarch and the Painted lady: do you know how to differentiate them?

André-Philippe Drapeau Picard: Friday, September 15, 2017

By Daphné Laurier Montpetit
Mission Monarch coordinator

It is called the Painted lady (Vanessa cardui), and it is the most common species of butterfly in the world. In Canada, it seems to follow a cycle: rare in some years, it returns in great numbers other summers. This year, observations of this species abound. With its orange wings, it can remind us of the monarch and deceive the eye of several observers.

Do you know how to differentiate it from the monarch?

Some similarities…

Like the monarch, the painted lady belongs to the family of nymphalids. It is also a migratory species that, having flown in Canada from April to October, migrates to the southern United States or to Mexico for the winter. Two or three generations can be observed during the summer.

… and differences!

If its colors can recall those of the monarch, the patterns displayed on its wings are quite different. The painted lady has no black veins, like those of the monarch, but rather brown spots. On the back of its hind wings, visible when the butterfly has its wings closed, we can distinguish four ocelli – round spots recalling eyes.

With a wingspan of about 6 cm, the painted lady is also smaller than the monarch, which can reach up to 10 cm wingspan. The flight of the painted lady is rapid and erratic, unlike the slow floating of the monarch.


Have you seen painted ladies?

At first glance, the two orange butterflies can easily be confused. To make sure you report the right butterfly, take pictures. The pictures are a great help to confirm the identifications. You can also rely on the Monarch Identification Sheets and the Commonly confused form to validate your observations.

Remember to report monarch observations on the Mission Monarch website. And if you saw painted ladies? Contribute to the research on butterflies, by reporting your observations on eButterfly! Your Mission Monarch login information also works on this site.

Good butterfly watching!

Painted lady
Painted lady
(Photo: André Sarrazin)
(Photo: André Sarrazin)

A breathtaking Blitz!

André-Philippe Drapeau Picard: Thursday, August 17, 2017

By Daphné Laurier Montpetit
Mission Monarch coordinator

From July 29th to August 6th was held the second Mission Monarch Blitz. This year again, the participation (of the citizens and monarchs!) exceeded the expectations. Here is a summary of the week, in numbers.


During the nine days of the Blitz, 115 participants submitted more than 249 missions, exceeding in one week the total number of missions of the 2016 season!
A mission is any outing during which one or more milkweed plants are examined in search of monarch caterpillars and for which observations are shared on the website. People from several Canadian provinces (and even some American states) carried out these 249 missions.


Is the number of milkweed plants inspected by our citizen scientists during the week. This is excellent news, since the host plant of the monarch is at the heart of the mission. The research behind Mission Monarch focuses on identifying the best breeding habitats of the monarch butterfly, and milkweed is an essential part of it. In short, it is as important to document the host plant as the presence of the butterfly. The data collected on milkweed are therefore very valuable, even if no monarchs are found.


Experts agree: we are, so far, witnessing a better year for monarchs. Monarchs observations are on the rise throughout its breeding range, and the 606 adult monarchs reported during the Blitz are only supporting the trend.

The size of populations of migratory monarchs is calculated by counting the number of hectares they occupy during their overwintering season. Based on this summer’s assessment so far, we are hopeful that this year’s count will meet the 2010 and 2015 numbers. Back then, the eastern population covered just over 4 hectares. Still below the last 25 years avergade of 6 hectares, but compared with the 0.67 hectares occupied in 2013, this is a step in the right direction!


They are the stars we hoped to see, and they were there in numbers! During the Blitz, 223 caterpillars were spotted on milkweed plants inventoried.

Caterpillars provide clues to the quality of summer breeding sites. Where they are (and survive), we know that the conditions are adequate. By listing sightings of monarch caterpillars, a map of the most productive habitats can be identified and prioritized to optimize the conservation efforts of the monarch.

No time to rest for monarchs!

The Blitz is over, but for monarchs, the biggest job is coming! The caterpillars that will be observed over the next few weeks will be those that, once adults, will undertake the long journey to their overwintering areas in Mexico. Let’s enjoy their last days among us! The missions carried out in the late summer are just as useful as those during the Blitz.

So, dear participants, we count on you to get back out there and look for caterpillars!
Good missions!

The monarch, an endangered species?

André-Philippe Drapeau Picard: Monday, December 19, 2016

By Daphné Laurier Montpetit
Coordinator of the Mission monarch project

In December, the Committee on the Status of Endengered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) released its latest list of endangered species. Among the list is the monarch, whom the Committee recommends qualify as “Endangered”. What impact can this new designation have on the population of the emblematic butterfly? A disturbing news or a source of hope?



COSEWIC is a committee of experts who assess the status of Canada’s wildlife based on scientific research, Aboriginal traditional knowledge and community knowledge.
This information provides an informed picture of the risk of extinction of the studied species. Each is given a status ranging from “Not at risk” to “Extinct”. With these assessments, COSEWIC sets out a list of species to be protected.


COSEWIC status categories:

  • Extinct
  • Extirpated
  • Endangered
  • Threatened
  • Special Concern
  • Not at risk
  • Data Deficient


To qualify for legal protection, a species must appear on the Species List. To establish this list, the federal government decides whether or not to follow the COSEWIC recommendations. It then implements conservation regulations and plans accordingly, under the Species at Risk Act (SARA)

A great change for the monarch

Following the most recent assessment, COSEWIC recommends that the status of the monarch be changed from “Special Concern” to “Endangered” in Canada, which represents a significant leap.

There are several threats to the monarch: pesticides, climate change, destruction of their breeding habitats … But what justifies this drastic change of status, according to the Committee, is the continual reduction in the size of wintering areas, in Mexico. Indeed, oyamel fir forests have experienced an upsurge in illegal logging, despite the protection efforts of the Mexican government. Since the entire migratory population of eastern North America finds itself there during the winter, the region is neuralgic for the survival of the monarch.

Good or bad news?

Many are saddened by these recommendations, but is this really bad news? The situation of the butterfly, which was already precarious, did not worsen. Even if the report shows a hard reality, it can be seen as a source of hope.
This new status would reinforce a sense of urgency. If COSEWIC’s recommendations are followed and the monarch is declared “Endangered” under the SARA, significant and valuable actions can be expected for its conservation. In addition to being beneficial to the butterfly, these conservation actions would contribute to the protection of several other species that share the monarch’s habitat. Let us hope that Canada chooses to invest in the conservation of the insect which symbolizes its association with the other countries of North America!

Help already in motion

The good news is that we do not have to wait for official procedures to lend a hand to the monarch: That’s what Mission Monarch is there for!

Whatever the status of the species, the monarch needs our help. Scientific research is the first step in the recovery of the animal.
Even in the middle of winter, you can take action! Talk about Mission Monarch, recruit participants around you and learn about the butterfly!

We wish all our participants a joyous festivities and an excellent end of the year!

The Mission Monarch Team

Danaus plexippus2016-02-25 Piedra Herrada Mexico DSC_2216_Fotor



Why do monarchs migrate?

André-Philippe Drapeau Picard: Friday, November 11, 2016

By Daphné Laurier Montpetit
Mission Monarch coordinator


If my first experience running a half marathon taught me something, it’s that 21 kilometers is long! Imagine the 4000 km that monarchs must travel to reach their wintering grounds. As the first champions are crossing the finish line of the state of Michoacán, Mexico, one wonders why these butterflies are going through so much trouble. Why do monarchs migrate?

The monarch, a great traveler

The monarch is, originally, a tropical butterfly. Populations of the species are found all over the world (the Americas, Pacific Islands, Oceania …), and some of these populations do not migrate. Indeed, under favorable conditions, generations can succeed each other on an ongoing basis, as is the case for monarchs in Mexico and South America.

Why then are others moving away from the tropics, year after year? It is probably in order to avoid strong competition for food within their environment. Milkweed, a plant necessary for the growth of monarch caterpillars, abounds in summer in northern regions. For the monarch, it is an all-you-can-eat buffet! By expanding its territory, it has access to more resources for the development of caterpillars.

The challenges of winter

There is, however, a price to be paid for this abundance: the arrival of winter! Insects living in temperate environments have developed different strategies to survive the cold season. Some species hide or bury themselves while others take advantage of the protection of snow to stay active. The monarch, for his part, has developed a formidable ability to move over long distances and an outstanding ability to navigate to specific wintering sites.

These wintering sites are not chosen at random. Oyamel fir forests, in central Mexico, offer the perfect conditions to spend the winter. The temperature is cool enough to allow the butterflies to adopt a metabolism that limits the energy expenditure, the trees offer protection against the wind and the moisture is adequate. In a few words, these sites are worth the trip!

Migration at the heart of the Mission

The formidable migration of monarchs is an unparalleled show. It stimulates scientific curiosity, cultural attachment and human passion. It is because of the rich and hospitable habitats that we can observe this magnificent butterfly in Canada, every summer.

To preserve this unique phenomenon, we must preserve the habitats that are necessary for the reproduction of the monarch. Understanding the habits of the butterfly and knowing which environments are most favorable to it will allow us to protect the species. And that is the purpose of Mission Monarch!

Let us ensure that our winged visitors always find the milkweeds they came to seek in Canada!



2016-02-25 Piedra Herrada Mexico DSC_2216_Fotor

Danaus plexippus

“So long, and thanks for the milkweed!”

André-Philippe Drapeau Picard: Friday, October 14, 2016

By Daphné Laurier Montpetit
Mission Monarch coordinator

Tree leaves are becoming as bright as monarchs’ wings, and it’s time to say goodbye to our favorite butterflies. The monarchs you observed during summer (maybe even as caterpillars!) are leaving us for the trip of a lifetime. As you are reading this, they are travelling towards the mountains of central Mexico, where they will spend the winter.

A unique migration

Only a few species can boast of such an achievement.  Travelling over 4000km is not an easy task for a butterfly. How do they overcome this titanic challenge? Well, monarchs have more than one trick up their sleeve!

While previous generations live about a month as adults, the butterflies of the migratory generation can live up to more than nine months. They put on hold the development of their reproductive organs at the time of emergence (at the exit of the chrysalis), and complete their development in the following spring. This pause in reproductive development allows them to invest their energy in storing reserves to fuel their migration. Monarchs take advantage of the strong winds in migratory corridors to travel over vast distances. Along the way, they stop when conditions deteriorate or near big water bodies waiting for ideal conditions and refuel with water and nectar. Year after year, migrating butterflies crowds are observed at the same roost sites, along the great lakes

How do they know where to stop? What guides them to the wintering grounds that their great-grandparents had visited? What other tricks do they use to succeed that great a journey? Mystery! The impressive monarch migration maintains its share of secrets. If monarchs disappear, so does their migration, taking with it the answers several unanswered questions facing scientists.


On behalf of monarchs, thank you!

This summer, you were more than 1,000 participants to inventory nearly 150 locations during 220 missions. The data you have collected will be analyzed by the research team. Throughout the mission, your contribution will create a profile of monarchs’ preferences in choosing their breeding habitats. The better we understand the monarchs, the better we can protect them!

And we have learned much, already! Migration patterns, late arrival dates and small populations give us things to think about. We will adapt the protocol and optimize Mission Monarch in order to learn as much as possible about the butterfly’s reproduction habits.

So thank you for the time and energy you have dedicated to the cause. Each of your comments is like a monarch wing beat: with all those beats put together, we will reach our destination! We count on you: keep up the good work, tell everyone about Mission Monarch, and become and ambassador for monarchs! Stay tuned to follow the new monarch and to prepare for the next Mission Monarch season!

2016-02-25 Piedra Herrada Mexico DSC_2234_Fotor

All monarchs are orange…

André-Philippe Drapeau Picard: Sunday, July 10, 2016

By Daphné Laurier Montpetit
Coordinator of the Mission monarch project

… but not all orange butterflies are monarchs !

At the beginning of summer, we might be impatient to see a familiar black and orange butterfly, but we must stay vigilent. Butterfly species that are not monarchs show similar patterns and colors. Even the best observers can be fooled ! Here is how to recognize the different species.

Colors that say a lot

In the wild, most preys favor dull colors that match their habitat. But with its bright orange wings, the monarch is not really good at camouflage ! Even the caterpillar is hard to miss, with its yellow, black and white stripes.

With these colors, the monarch sends a very specific message : that of toxicity. The toxins contained in milkweed – the plant that monarch caterpillars eat – are accumulated in the insect’s body, giving it a very bad taste. Therefore, the bright color serves as a warning to predators : « don’t eat me, I taste awful ! »


The monarch is usually recognizable by its orange wings and black stripes. We can’t relay on these sole features to identify a monarch, though, because many other species show similar ones.

In Canada, the list of orange butterflies is quite long. Fritillaries, coppers, admirals and painted ladies can easily be confused with monarchs, if they are seen quickly. The swallotails, on the other hand, also have black stripes ont their wings, although they show a bright yellow color.

Nevertheless, the immitation champion is, without a doubt, the viceroy. This butterfly is found from central to eastern Canada, and looks almost exactly the same as the monarch. Has it evolved to look like the ladder to take advantage of it’s toxicity warning ? Or has it developed the same tricks over time, being toxic itself ?

Whatever the explanation behind the resemblance is, it’s actually pretty easy to make the difference, when you know what to look for. First, size matters ! Whereas the monarch is one of the biggest buterflies of Canada, with its 10cm wingspan, the viceroy is no larger than 7cm. So if a « monarch » seems small, it might actually be a viceroy. Also, unlike the monarch, the viceroy has a black line running across the veins on each of its hind wings. This line is a good clue to identify the viceroy, if you can have a close look at it.

A sheet is dedicated to these orange butterflies that are not monarchs, on the website. The identification sheets will help you get to know canadian butterflies a little better, and make sure you report actual monarchs in your missions. Oh and, while you’re at it, why not submit you butterfly sightings on eButterfly ?

Enjoy the mission!

Adult monarch
Monarch caterpillar
Canadian tiger swallowtail

Mission Monarch – the science behind the citizen science

admin: Wednesday, June 8, 2016

By Maxim Larrivée

North-American migratorial monarch populations have dramatically diminished over the last 20 years. During the winter of 2014, they reached their lowest overwintering population size in Mexico since the beginning of monitoring that began over twenty years ago. It is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of migratorial monarchs breed in Canada each summer. Until now, Canada’s conservation efforts have mostly focussed on the preservation of fall migration roosting areas along the Great Lakes in Ontario. No detailed scientific knowledge currently exists on Canadian monarch breeding grounds to provide the necessary guidelines for establishing a national conservation management plan to improve their summer reproductive success.

It was initially determined, during the first meeting of the Canadian Monarch Expert panel, that Canada (in its international efforts with Mexico and the United-States to restore the migratorial monarch populations to sustainable levels) should aim to maximize breeding success of migratorial Monarchs in Canada.

This goal led to the following question: Is milkweed availability a limiting factor for monarch’s breeding success in Canada? The issue, however, is that there is currently no data available in to answer this question.

The scientific team behind Mission Monarch came up with a 3 steps approach to gather the necessary information to reach this goal:


  1. The first step consisted in aggregating into a single database all currently known information on past monarch and milkweed distribution across the country in order to determine realize and potential summer breeding territory in Canada through bioclimatic distribution models.
  2. The second step is to identify potential regional breeding hotspots by combining the results of step 1 with monarch density estimates from eButterfly monitoring data and national scale land cover and land use change analyses.
  3. Finally the third step is to conduct on the ground validation of potential monarch breeding hotspots through the Mission Monarch citizen science project.


Migratorial Monarchs breed over a very large territory during the summer in Canada. A territory so vast that it would not be possible for scientists alone to gather a sufficient amount of data to rapidly assess if milkweed availability is a limiting factor to monarch reproduction in Canada. Scientists are calling upon all Canadian citizens to help them validate and refine their research on monarch breeding habitat across the country and ultimately help conserve the migratorial monarch phenomenon.

You can now help scientist gain the knowledge that is necessary in order to conserve the beautiful monarch butterfly, as well as it’s impressive and unique migration. Join Mission Monarch!