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Posts Tagged: monarch butterflies

Have You Seen Me? A Tagged Monarch?

This Pacific Northwest-reared Monarch butterfly was found in San Mateo on Oct. 10. It had flown 330 miles in 10 days. (Photo by Albert Wong)
The next time you see a Monarch butterfly heading your way--or settled in at an overwintering site in coastal California or in central Mexico--check to see if it's tagged.

It may have flown hundreds of miles from the Pacific Northwest, and Washington State University entomologist David James is eager to know where you found it.

James, an associate professor at Washington State University,  studies the migration routes and overwintering sites of the Pacific Northwest Monarch population, which are thought to overwinter primarily in coastal California but also in  central Mexico. He spearheads a Monarch-tagging project in which volunteers--primarily inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla--rear and release the butterflies.

“There are currently more than 2000 monarchs (Danaus plexippus) in the Northwest that are carrying tags and many of these I have good reason to believe are in the general Sacramento to San Francisco area," James said this week.

“Last Friday, Oct. 10, one of our tagged Monarchs was seen near San Mateo--this one was tagged 10 days earlier in Applegate, southern Oregon. It had flown 330 miles! Then a few weeks ago (Sept. 27) another was seen at Glen Ellen, Calif. This one had flown a whopping 600-plus miles from Yakima in central Washington."

James explained that “we have very little data to support the notion that they all fly to coastal California for overwintering. Before our project there was just a single tagged Monarch from Washington recovered in California. Recent observational evidence suggests that some PNW Monarchs fly in a more southerly-south-easterly direction, away from California and we speculate these may end up in Mexico! We have had one tag to date that supports this idea...a monarch released at Walla Walla turned up at Brigham City in Utah.”

Because the summer Monarch population in Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho is so small, James and his team have had to resort to mass breeding of Monarchs for tagging.

“We obtain wild females in Washington and rear their progeny,” the entomologist said. “Much of the rearing is done by inmates at Walla Walla Penitentiary.” He described it as “a very successful program for the butterflies and the prisoners! “

James is also increasingly using citizen scientists to rear and tag as well. See more details of recent recoveries and information about the program at the program's Facebook page.

You don't need a professional camera to capture an image. James said that "the two California recoveries we have had so far were both confirmed by cell phones or regular cameras! This technology definitely aids recoveries. It's so easy to take a high quality 'snap' that can be used to determine the tag details."

“I am confident there are a number of tagged Monarchs currently in your area," James told us. "We are actually still releasing them here in Washington, so the opportunity to see one will persist for a few weeks yet. “

He figures they are "likely heading to the overwintering sites at Bolinas, Santa Cruz and Pacific Grove--maybe further south as well.”

So, if you see a WSU-tagged monarch, take a photo and let WSU know. Contact: david_james@wsu.edu or the Facebook page.

For more information about the project, see WSU's Monarch Butterfly news story.

Close-up of a tagged Monarch butterfly. (Photo by David James, entomologist at Washington State University, Pullman, Wash.)
Close-up of a tagged Monarch butterfly. (Photo by David James, entomologist at Washington State University, Pullman, Wash.)

Close-up of a tagged Monarch butterfly. (Photo by David James, entomologist at Washington State University, Pullman, Wash.)

Entomologist David James demonstrates how to tag a Monarch.  This image was taken at a meeting of the Washington Butterfly Association at a Monarch breeding site near Vantage in central Washington on Aug. 23 2014.
Entomologist David James demonstrates how to tag a Monarch. This image was taken at a meeting of the Washington Butterfly Association at a Monarch breeding site near Vantage in central Washington on Aug. 23 2014.

Entomologist David James demonstrates how to tag a Monarch. This image was taken at a meeting of the Washington Butterfly Association at a Monarch breeding site near Vantage in central Washington on Aug. 23 2014.

Inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla, rear most of the Monarchs. The photo, taken during a WSU Media Day, shows the  release of the butterflies. (Photo by David James)
Inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla, rear most of the Monarchs. The photo, taken during a WSU Media Day, shows the release of the butterflies. (Photo by David James)

Inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla, rear most of the Monarchs. The photo, taken during a WSU Media Day, shows the release of the butterflies. (Photo by David James)

This Monarch  butterfly, reared by inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, heads for freedom. (Photo by David James)
This Monarch butterfly, reared by inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, heads for freedom. (Photo by David James)

This Monarch butterfly, reared by inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, heads for freedom. (Photo by David James)

Posted on Friday, October 17, 2014 at 3:57 PM

Saving the Monarchs

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation issued news today that is both disturbing and hopeful.

Disturbing in that the monarch butterfly population (Danaus plexippus) has declined by more than 90 percent in under 20 years.

Hopeful in that the monarch may receive federal protection through the Endangered Species Act.

The Xerces Society, the Center for Biological Diversity,  the Center for Food Safety, and monarch scientist Lincoln Brower, have filed a legal petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the monarch through the Endangered Species Act. The agency must respond within 30 days as to whether the petition warrants further review.

“Monarchs are in a deadly free fall and the threats they face are now so large in scale that Endangered Species Act protection is needed sooner rather than later, while there is still time to reverse the severe decline in the heart of their range,” related Lincoln Brower, preeminent monarch researcher and conservationist, who has been studying the species since 1954.

Tragicallly, the monarchs have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat, including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds that contain their host plant,  milkweed. The female monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed and this is the only food their larvae eat.

As Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, told us today: "Might be too little too late but they have to preserve/conserve milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) That's more important than the butterfly itself."

Xerces earlier sounded the alarm on the critical role that milkweeds play in the monarch's life cycle.

Senior scientist Tierra Curry of the Center for Biological Diversity, hammered home this point in the news release: “The 90 percent drop in the monarch's population is a loss so staggering that in human-population terms it would be like losing every living person in the United States except those in Florida and Ohio.”

And the loss of habitat is equal in size to the state of Texas.

The news release said that the butterfly's dramatic decline is "being driven by the widespread planting of genetically engineered crops in the Midwest, where most monarchs are born. The vast majority of genetically engineered crops are made to be resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, a uniquely potent killer of milkweed, the monarch caterpillar's only food. The dramatic surge in Roundup use with Roundup Ready crops has virtually wiped out milkweed plants in midwestern corn and soybean fields."

Science policy analyst Bill Freese of the Center for Food Safety was quoted as saying: "The widespread decline of monarchs is driven by the massive spraying of herbicides on genetically engineered crops, which has virtually eliminated monarch habitat in cropland that dominates the Midwest landscape. Doing what is needed to protect monarchs will also benefit pollinators and other valuable insects, and thus safeguard our food supply.”

Monarch butterflies are known for their spectacular multigenerational migration each year from Mexico to Canada and back, the news release said.

"The population has declined from a recorded high of approximately 1 billion butterflies in the mid-1990s to only 35 million butterflies last winter, the lowest number ever recorded," according to the release. "The overall population shows a steep and statistically significant decline of 90 percent over 20 years. In addition to herbicide use with genetically engineered crops, monarchs are also threatened by global climate change, drought and heat waves, other pesticides, urban sprawl, and logging on their Mexican wintering grounds. Scientists have predicted that the monarch's entire winter range in Mexico and large parts of its summer range in the states could become unsuitable due to changing temperatures and increased risk of drought, heat waves and severe storms."

Endangered species director Sarina Jepson of the Xerces Society worries--and rightfully so--that the monarch may become extinct, just like the passenger pigeon.

We are, too. We've seen only two--two--of these majestic butterflies fluttering in our family bee garden this year.

Monarch butterfly nectaring on Mexican sunflower, Tithonia, as a territorial male longhorned bee, Melissodes agilis, takes aim. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Monarch butterfly nectaring on Mexican sunflower, Tithonia, as a territorial male longhorned bee, Melissodes agilis, takes aim. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Monarch butterfly nectaring on Mexican sunflower, Tithonia, as a territorial male longhorned bee, Melissodes agilis, takes aim. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Monarch butterfly heading toward a butterfly bush. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Monarch butterfly heading toward a butterfly bush. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Monarch butterfly heading toward a butterfly bush. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This is milkweed, the monarch's host plant. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This is milkweed, the monarch's host plant. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This is milkweed, the monarch's host plant. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, August 26, 2014 at 5:48 PM

Got Milk (Weed) for the Bees?

Folks are planting milkweed for the monarchs.

The milkweed (genus Asclepias) is the host plant (larval food) for the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). No wonder the monarch is sometimes called "the milkweed butterfly."

The perennial plant is so named for its milky juice, consisting of a latex containing alkaloids and other complex compounds. Carl Linnaeus named the genus for the Greek god of healing, Asciepius.

But milkweed is also a favorite bee plant. It's an important nectar source.

The UC Davis Arboretum has a beautiful milkweed patch near Mrak Hall and on any given day, you'll see honey bees foraging. Be prepared to see as many as four or five honey bees on one bloom. The fragrance is delightful and so are the bees!

Honey bee foraging on milkweed in the UC Davis Arboretum, near Mrak Hall. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee foraging on milkweed in the UC Davis Arboretum, near Mrak Hall. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee foraging on milkweed in the UC Davis Arboretum, near Mrak Hall. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Walk down the garden path, lined with milkweed, and sit on the bench in the UC Davis Arboretum. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Walk down the garden path, lined with milkweed, and sit on the bench in the UC Davis Arboretum. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Walk down the garden path, lined with milkweed, and sit on the bench in the UC Davis Arboretum. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 10:11 PM

Monarch Migrations

Steve Reppert
Everyone recognizes the mighty monarch butterfly.

But how many people know about its migration?

Steve Reppert, chair and professor of the Department of  Neurobiology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, will speak on "Monarch Butterfly Migration: Behavior to Genes" at the Department of Entomology seminar on Wednesday, Feb. 13 from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in Room 1022 of the Life Sciences Addition, corner of Hutchison and Kleiber Hall drives.

 "Studies of the iconic migration of the eastern North American monarch butterfly have revealed mechanisms behind its navigation using a time-compensated sun compass," Reppert says. "Skylight cues, such as the sun itself and polarized light, are processed through both eyes and integrated in the brain’s central complex, the presumed site of the sun compass.  Circadian clocks that have a distinct molecular mechanism and that reside in the antennae provide time compensation.  The draft sequence of the monarch genome has been presented, and gene-targeting approaches have been developed to manipulate putative migration genes.  The monarch butterfly is an outstanding system to study the neural and molecular basis of long-distance migration." (See lab research.)

Hosts are Joanna Chiu, assistant professor of entomology, and Hugh Dingle, emeritus professor of entomology, will host the talk. Dingle, an authority on animal migration, was featured in a National Geographic cover story, "Mysteries of Great Migrations" in November 2010. 

Reppert received his bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska, Omaha, in pre-medicine, and his medical degree from the University of Nebraska College of Medicine. He completed a post-doctoral fellowship in neurobiology at the National Institutes of Child Health (NICHD), NIH, in 1979. He is a professor of pediatrics (neuroscience) at Harvard Medical School (2001 to the present) and since 2000, a pediatrician at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

Reppert became the chair of the Department of Neurobiology, UMass Medical School in 2001, the same year he became the Higgins Family Professor of Neuroscience at UCMass Medical School. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Among his publications on monarchs:

Reppert SM, Gegear RJ, Merlin C (2010). Navigational mechanisms of migrating monarch butterflies. Trends in Neurosciences (TINS) 33:399-406.

Heinze S, Reppert SM (2011). Sun compass integration of skylight cues in migratory monarch butterflies. Neuron 69:345-358. 

Zhan S, Merlin C, Boore JL, Reppert SM. The monarch genome yields insights into long-distance migration. Cell 2011; 147:1171-1185. 

 Reppert's talk will be video-recorded and posted on UCTV at a later date.

Monarch butterflly shares a Tithonia (Mexican sunflower) with a honey bee at the Haagen Dazs Honey Bee Haven, UC Davis, last summer.  (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Monarch butterflly shares a Tithonia (Mexican sunflower) with a honey bee at the Haagen Dazs Honey Bee Haven, UC Davis, last summer. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Monarch butterflly shares a Tithonia (Mexican sunflower) with a honey bee at the Haagen Dazs Honey Bee Haven, UC Davis, last summer. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, February 11, 2013 at 8:27 PM

Migratory Immunity in Monarchs

Sonia Altizer with monarch butterflies.
Monarch butterflies, says Sonia Altizer, are "globally distributed and best known for undertaking a spectacular annual migration in parts of North America."

However, in wild populations, monarchs are commonly infected "with a specialist protozoan Ophryocystis elektroscirrha; this parasite can be transmitted both vertically and horizontally and causes debilitating infections."

Altizer, an associate professor in the Odum School of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, will discuss "Migratory Immunity: Parasite Infection, Host Defense and Fitness Costs in Monarch Butterflies" at the UC Davis Department of Entomology seminar on Wednesday, May 9 in 122 Briggs Hall.

It promises to be well-attended, given the avid interest in monarchs and Altizer's expertise.

What's so special about monarchs?

"Monarch butterflies are known for the incredible mass migration that brings millions of them to California and Mexico each winter," according to an article in National Geographic. "North American monarchs are the only butterflies that make such a massive journey—up to 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers). The insects must begin this journey each fall ahead of cold weather, which will kill them if they tarry too long."

The National Geographic article points out that "Only monarchs born in late summer or early fall make the migration, and they make only one round trip. By the time next year's winter migration begins, several summer generations will have lived and died and it will be last year's migrators' great grandchildren that make the trip. Yet somehow these new generations know the way, and follow the same routes their ancestors took—sometimes even returning to the same tree."

Altizer's research focuses on the interplay between animal behavior and the spread and evolution of infectious diseases.   For the past 15 years, she has studied monarch butterfly migration, ecology, and interactions with a protozoan parasite, asking how seasonal migration of these butterflies affects parasite transmission.

She also researches a number of other projects, including mammalian infectious diseases and songbird-pathogen dynamics, including studies of house finch conjunctivitis, West Nile virus, and salmonellosis.

But we butterfly enthusiasts are happy she's studying the monarchs!

A monarch butterfly foraging on a Mexican sunflower in the Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A monarch butterfly foraging on a Mexican sunflower in the Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A monarch butterfly foraging on a Mexican sunflower in the Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 10:21 PM

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