Monarch Update Yields Hope

Monarch Update Yields Hope

Today, is the Monarch Monitoring Blitz hosted by Monarch Joint Venture. I came across a posting on social media that reminded me of this citizen science event.  Having raised monarchs for 14 years, I definitely feel the need to participate in the reporting activities of this weekend.

Just to set the stage, this summer I did not see a monarch until after the July 4th weekend. I had found one caterpillar toward the end of June that told me Monarchs had visited, but until that holiday weekend, I hadn’t seen my orange and black friends float by on a breeze. To date, I have only been able to release one butterfly.  I can tell, without the use of any statistics, the numbers are down.

But, yesterday, after seeing a Monarch fly by three or four times, or possibly three or four monarchs fly by, I saw the post by The University of Minnesota’s Monarch Lab Monitoring Project. Essentially, it is asking “regular” citizens or lay-people, or non-scientists to go out this weekend and look for Monarch eggs or larvae (caterpillars).

So, since I consider myself to be a monarch conservationist and have participated in many citizen science activities regarding monarchs and milkweed, I headed outside after dinner to check out my milkweed patches. This really is not an unusual activity for me, I have been checking my milkweed for the last 14 summers! Usually, I have raised and released over 15 monarchs by this time in the summer. As I have already noted, it has been slow. I did not harbor much hope of finding eggs or caterpillars. Yet, I did have that adult monarch (or those adult monarchs) flying around my deck before dinner.

I thought about waiting to look. After all, I had just looked two days ago and found nothing but aging milkweed plants. And, the monitoring blitz wasn’t starting until today. But, I went ahead and read what information they were seeking from community observers (citizen scientists) such as myself and decided to look.

Within five minutes I was back in the house, proudly showing my teens a monarch egg I had found. Two minutes later, I had found four more. And ten minutes after that, another five! Ten monarch eggs! All found on common milkweed leaves in the patch facing South next to my garage – in an area of about 225 square feet, encompassing about 32 plants. I was ecstatic!

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For one thing, I have never been good at finding eggs. But, these had been super easy to find!  All but one were on the underside of tender, newly sprouted milkweed leaves. I made note of this observation. One leaf had 3 eggs on it. Each of the other eggs were laid upon single leaves – kind of what is expected. One egg was found laid on the top side of the leaf – somewhat unusual. And one egg was so hard to determine if it was an egg because it was near a margin of a leaf that had already been chewed, dried, and was curled on itself. Luckily, I have a great pair of magnifying glasses, which I use to do fine work on my jewelry,  and broke those out to inspect not only this egg but all of them!

Ten eggs – the night before the monitoring blitz started! Ten eggs – a great number with which to work as it will be easy to determine morbidity and mortality statistics, without causing any mathematical difficulties. Ten eggs – all photographed. Ten eggs – checked and rechecked this morning. Ten eggs – hopefully, soon to be te caterpillars!

I feel fortunate to be able to contribute this information to the scientists working hard to ensure the survival of the monarch species.  I have hope.

 

 

Four Monarchs for the Fourth!

Four Monarchs for the Fourth!

On June 30th, last Friday, I saw my first Monarch of the season! It was at our cabin in the Northwoods of Wisconsin! I have a perennial bed with common milkweed for the caterpillars and nectar plants like purple cone flowers for the adult butterflies. The monarch was flitting from plant to plant!  Later, after my excitement calmed down, I was able to find a tiny caterpillar on those same plants!

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The next day, on our morning walk, I found a bigger caterpillar on a milkweed plant alongside the dirt road on which we were strolling before seven o’clock in the morning! Both caterpillars were carefully collected and given plenty of milkweed leaves on which to munch. They made the ride home with us on Monday. Usually, I have enough caterpillars at our house to satisfy my need to raise monarchs. This year, I have only found one in my main gardens. It is now in the third stage of the Monarch Life Cycle, or the Chrysalis (the pupa). It is in this stage that the metamorphosis takes place from caterpillar to butterfly!

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On July 4th, I was working in my gardens and saw four monarchs throughout the day! Or maybe, it was one monarch I saw four times! I am hoping it was the previous occurence and more than one had returned to my yard! It was a welcome sight, indeed!

Since it is July, one or two months of monarchs have already completed their life cycle. In August, I will again send to Monarch Watch to obtain tags in which to apply to the monarchs I raise and/or catch during that month. This is the generation which will travel an amazing 1,700 miles from my home to central Mexico to overwinter. Last year, I tagged 15 monarchs. I doubt I will have that many this year. But, I can hope. Maybe the season is just off to a slow start!

For more information, please see the downloadable PDF from Monarch Joint Venture on raising Monarchs responsibly.