Friday, September 30, 2011

Monarchs - Tagging for Migration

It is now autumn and one of the most interesting migrations is starting.  This is the migration of the monarch butterfly,untitled MonarchMSB_9395 August 25, 2011 NIKON D300S which will travel from our area down to the mountains of Mexico, where they will overwinter, prior to returning to the southern United States, usually Texas, where they will lay eggs and start the next generation of monarchs, who will fly northwards , producing additional generations that will finally reach, Southern New England in July.

Every fall all over the country, people are tagging monarchs as part of Monarch Watch, http://www.monarchwatch.org/, to help understand the migratory patterns of these remarkable butterflies.  The next paragraphs are taken from the Monarch Watch site.

"Unlike most other insects in temperate climates, Monarch butterflies cannot survive a long cold winter. Instead, they spend the winter in roosting spots. Monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains travel to small groves of trees along the California coast. Those east of the Rocky Mountains fly farther south to the forests high in the mountains of Mexico. The monarch's migration is driven by seasonal changes. Day length and temperature changes influence the movement of the Monarch.
In all the world, no butterflies migrate like the Monarchs of North America. They travel much farther than all other tropical butterflies, up to three thousand miles. They are the only butterflies to make such a long, two way migration every year. Amazingly, they fly in masses to the same winter roosts, often to the exact same trees. Their migration is more the type we expect from birds or whales. However, unlike birds and whales, individuals only make the round-trip once. It is their children's grandchildren that return south the following fall.
Some other species of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) travel long distances, but they generally go in one direction only, often following food. This one-way movement is properly called emigration. In tropical lands, butterflies do migrate back and forth as the seasons change. At the beginning of the dry season, the food plants shrivel and the butterflies leave to find a moister climate. When the rains arrive, the food plants grow back and the butterflies return.
When the late summer and early fall Monarchs emerge from their pupae, or chrysalides, they are biologically and behaviorally different from those emerging in the summer. The shorter days and cooler air of late summer trigger changes. In Minnesota this occurs around the end of August. Even though these butterflies look like summer adults, they won't mate or lay eggs until the following spring. Instead, their small bodies prepare for a strenuous flight. Otherwise solitary animals, they often cluster at night while moving ever southward. If they linger too long, they won't be able to make the journey; because they are cold-blooded, they are unable to fly in cold weather.
Fat, stored in the abdomen, is a critical element of their survival for the winter. This fat not only fuels their flight of one to three thousand miles, but must last until the next spring when they begin the flight back north. As they migrate southwards, Monarchs stop to nectar, and they actually gain weight during the trip! Some researchers think that Monarchs conserve their "fuel" in flight by gliding on air currents as they travel south. This is an area of great interest for researchers; there are many unanswered questions about how these small organisms are able to travel so far."

Lauren, a staff member at Allens Pond Audubon Sanctuary, tags, monarchs every year.  She offers programs for schools and the general public.  These programs help educate people about the monarchs and how to help preserve them.  As more and more land development occurs, habitat for the monarchs decreases, which could end up causing a diminution in the numbers.

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untitled D7K_4577 September 28, 2011 NIKON D7000Tags

untitled D7K_4582 September 28, 2011 NIKON D7000Where to place tag

untitled D7K_4637 September 28, 2011 NIKON D7000 Talking to a Participantuntitled D7K_4645 September 28, 2011 NIKON D7000

untitled D7K_4677 September 28, 2011 NIKON D7000Holding a Monarch

untitled D7K_4685 September 28, 2011 NIKON D7000Monarch butterfly proboscis

untitled D7K_4710 September 28, 2011 NIKON D7000Tag on wing

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There are still Monarch caterpillars feeding on milkweed

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untitled Monarch catipiller-D7K_4774 September 28, 2011 NIKON D7000

Notice that this caterpillar is a darker black – it has been parasitized, probably by a small waspuntitled D7K_4781 September 28, 2011 NIKON D7000


 

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Monarch chrysalis  (middle one has hatched, left one is new)

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