In 2017 the Monarch Butterfly Fund issued a public challenge to create a system that could track the flight of individual monarch butterflies on their migration. Dr. David Blaauw and his colleagues at the University of Michigan and the University of Pittsburgh have been working on developing tiny sensors that can be attached to individual monarchs and record information throughout their flights. They recently completed a paper on their development of a deep learning algorithm that can estimate a butterfly’s daily location by analyzing light and temperature sensor data continuously obtained from an ultra-low power, millimeter (mm)-scale sensor attached to the butterfly. With the help of 82 volunteers across the U.S., they have collected over 1500 days of real-world sensor data! Thanks to all of you who contributed to the challenge, MBF has been able to support this wonderful achievement!
Join thousands of volunteers in Canada, Mexico and the United States, from July 24 to August 2, 2020 for the 4th Annual International Monarch Monitoring Blitz. With limited ability to do field work due to COVID-19 restrictions, researchers need your observations now more than ever.
To take part in the Blitz, submit your data to Mission Monarch if you are in Canada. If you are east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States, submit your observations to the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, and if you are west of the Rocky Mountains, use the Western Monarch and Milkweed Mapper. In Mexico, submit your data to Naturalista. In addition to entering data through these programs, we encourage you to follow the Blitz on social media using the hashtag #MonarchBlitz!
For one week, the Blitz invites people across North America to look for milkweed plants and survey them for monarch eggs, caterpillars, chrysalises, and butterflies. This information will help researchers identify priority areas for monarch conservation actions. Data gathered during the Blitz is uploaded to the Trinational Monarch Knowledge Network, where it is accessible for anyone to consult and download.
For this year’s Blitz, we feel compelled to underline that your well-being, and that of those around you, comes first. Before participating in any activities, please look up and carefully follow the health and safety measures for COVID-19 recommended by the authorities in your region.
Nora Caplan-Bricker, journalist, essayist, and critic whose work has appeared in Slate, Harper’s, The New Yorker, and The New York Times Magazine, wrote a beautiful story in Atavist Magazine titled Long May They Reign. The story’s teaser reads “A butterfly named Flamingo, an epic migration, and the crusade to save one of America’s most iconic species.” Dr. Karen Oberhauser is quoted in several places of the story that reminds us of the beauty and remarkable migration of the monarch butterflies.
By now you have probably heard that the forest area occupied by monarch in Mexico was down from last year, to 2.83 hectares. The area occupied by monarch butterflies represented a 53% decrease from last year.
To put this in historical perspective, we’ve created a graph that provides decade means (with only 7 years included in the first “decade”, due to a lack of earlier data). There are big year to year fluctuations that probably result from year to year weather fluctuations during the breeding, migratory, and wintering phases of the annual cycle. Thus, simply saying that the population decreased 53% from last year is not informative. The long-term average since the colonies were first measured is 5.62 hectares. The mean for the past decade is 2.82 ha, almost exactly what was measured this year. Thus, 2019 was an average year for monarchs over the past decade. But this decade represents a big drop from previous decades—with means of 5.84 ha from 2000-2009, and 9.31 ha for the first 7 years that the colonies were measured.
Figure legend: 1994-2003 data collected by personnel of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR) of the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas (CONANP). 2004-2020 data collected by the WWF-Telcel Alliance, in coordination with the Directorate of the MBBR. 2000-2001 population numbers as reported by Garcia-Serrano et. al (in Oberhauser and Solensky. 2004. The Monarch Butterfly: Biology and Conservation).
Data from this year are a stark reminder that a single high year does not mean that the population has recovered, and that monarch numbers reflect habitat availability and weather conditions throughout the annual cycle. While monarch numbers were high in much of the breeding range last summer, monarchs produced in the summer need to migrate successfully and survive the winter as well. Data from this year, combined with those from past years, may help us understand population drivers better.
Today, February, 18 the Monarch Network launched the video titled “Biodiversity: Beyond the Monarch” that illustrates the amazing variety of species that exist in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. During the event, held at the Museum of Memory and Tolerance in Mexico City, the media and the public watched the video after listening to a tribute to Dr. Lincoln Brower given by Mónica Missrie from MBF, and followed by several presentations from several members of the Monarch Network including Board member Dr. Isabel Ramírez who talked about the monarchs and climate change. The video was streamed in the U.S. and Canada. MBF is proud to be a member of the Monarch Network and to fund the video that you can watch below.
On November 22, 2019, the tourist season opened at the Sierra Chincua Sanctuary in Angangueo, Michoacán. As part of this event, Silvano Aureoles, Governor of the State of Michoacán, Hilda Dominguez, Municipal President of Angangueo and Carmelo Martínez, Ejido Leader, unveiled a plaque that remembers Lincoln for “his passion for monarchs, nature, science and conservation”, and commemorates the fact that it was in this sanctuary where Lincoln first saw a butterfly colony and called it “Site Alpha”. MBF Board member, Isabel Ramírez, read a beautiful thank you message from Lincoln’s wife, Linda Fink and gave a brief overview of Lincoln’s work and the role he played in the conservation of this site.