Monday, October 15, 2007

Momentous Monarch Migration

Monarch Migrations are momentous events, all in all, but when there are profoundly enormous groups of Monarch butterflies making landfall near human populations, it is news. These are rare events.

Many people frequently see small groups of 100 or less during the migration events, but very few people site large groups of Monarchs. These large Monarch groups are usually seen where special conditions of food,shelter, water and weather come together to make an inviting stopover.

There are Monarch observers, in SE Kansas, who have hosted migration groups, numbering in the thousands on their land. The Monarchs usually roost in fields with flowers, cedar trees and ponds(streams or lakes),creating shelter. Having personally seen migration groups in the thousands at Wilson County State Lake,KS and at surrounding farms on different occasions over the past 20 years, I can vouch for these wondrous migrations.

Last week, Richard Hines, a Monarch Watch supporter, reported a Monarch migration cohort that will set records for many years. Richard enjoys the Monarch Migrations with his family. He recognizes the need for Monarch butterfly habitat, and he encourages these habitats by maintaining a Monarch Watch Waystation.

Mary Hines, a secondary Journalism, Yearbook and English teacher, takes excellent digital images, photographs, of the Monarchs and their migration. She was kind enough to share all the pictures used here.

A lucky farmer with 450 acres of blooming sunflowers in Southeast Kansas, near the Neosho River,west of Erie, KS, played host to what Dr. Chip Taylor, entomology professor at the University of Kansas and the Director of Monarch Watch described as a rare event for this area.
Dr. Taylor, enthusiastically reported this rare mass migration event to the folks at JourneyNorth,

Why So Rare?
Dr. Taylor explained: "The monarchs had been attracted to a sunflower field that was in full bloom....The 450 acre field had been planted late in the season, after the first crop was flooded out in early June. It is rare to have commercial sunflowers blooming this late in the season so the expectation of seeing such an aggregation at this time of year again is low."

View Larger Map

Estimating the total number in a Monarch roost is difficult, but considering a most conservative number of monarchs per square yard of the 450 acres of sunflowers and the bordering trees that were covering them, Dr. Taylor suspects the number could be 200,000 Monarchs.

That is the conservative estimate considering that there is only one monarch per 10 square yards, in this estimate. The pictures taken at the rural Erie,KS site indicate that the roost size (monarch population in the field, trees and other roosting areas) was closer to 1 Monarch butterfly per 1 square yard. You do the math! A number in the millions overwhelms the mind.

Taking the more conservative number of 200,000 Monarchs during this siting, the Erie, KS roost size is double the previous record-setting Monarch roost observation in SE Arkansas last year, in October of 2006.

It is important to note that the work of ordinary Canadians, Americans, and Mexicans, along with their scholars, teachers, nature lovers and other leaders have made it possible for the Monarch butterflies to continue to migrate. They still travel to and from Mexico and Canada, through America each year.

Since various conditions impact the Monarch butterfly, these Monarch Watchers consider and work to minimize activities that often cause ecological crises in Mexico and the United States of America

In the past, some of these deforestation and habitat loss events have put the Monarch, as a species, at risk, but there are dedicated Monarch enthusiasts, including multitudes of students in the three countries, as well as the world, who help intervene to solve these ecological issues before they destroy the Monarchs. It is very awe-inspiring. You too can answer this call to action and enjoy the Monarch Migration.


Jane Krauss said...

That's some big population! It's terrific how you have documented this project in so many ways with multimedia. Your pictures take me back to a visit to the highlands of Michoachan in Mexico several years ago. I think midwestern monarchas follow the migratory pathway that ends up there. There was snow on the ground, end of November, and the butterflies were chilly, hanging to the fir trees until the sun hit them and they took flight. Amazing sight. There were open-range cattle hanging around and the butterflies seemed to be sipping moisture from their eyeballs. I've seen monarchs in Monterey, CA too, I guess that's the pacific flyway. Thanks for conjuring up all these memories!

samccoy said...

Describing your trip to the Michoachan Highlands in Mexico took me there. From your description it really looks just as I imagined. The main group of migrating Monarchs settle in these highlands for the winter. Someday!!!

Yes, there is a separate Pacific flyway. Its origin and existence were discussed frequently on the old Monarch Watch Listserv. I noticed that JourneyNorth maps it also. It is an interesting phenomenon, a fairly isolated population.

Earth's natural wonders amaze me. I'm glad Monarchs are part of it. Next Spring will provide an excellent opportunity for the migration viewing, barring any unfortunate wintering issues.

Thanks for your gracious comments. Pulling content together for postings like Momentous Monarch Migration energizes me. Using primary sources is not always possible, but I was very fortunate. The photographer and the original spotter provided the source materials and I fleshed out the story.