Although I typically write about monarchs and milkweed, really I am a field biologist aspiring to study and understand the natural world, mostly in terms of the origin and maintenance of biodiversity. A life-long goal is to learn about the natural history of species, habitats, and interactions as a means to develop a view of life. It’s the interplay of… Read more
The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA), enacted under President Richard Nixon, is perhaps one of the greatest pieces of environmental legislation in the world.
Six years ago, in 2014, four entities petitioned the US Fish & Wildlife Service (F&WS) to list monarch butterflies as threatened under the ESA. The groups were the Xerxes Society for Invertebrate Conservation, the late… Read more
It is easy to think that for fabulous, bite-you-in-the-nose, natural history, you have to go to the tropics. Not true! As a response to the covid pandemic, so many of us are spending more time outside in gardens and neighborhood parks. I have been posting (mostly on twitter, @anuragasclepias) some finds such as these two organisms below in and around… Read more
The last 10 years have been a wild ride for the monarch butterfly population. Between 2010 and 2014 was the all-time population low, as recorded during overwintering in Mexico and reported by the WWF. This terrible low point, something I termed in the “red zone” corresponded to the 100-year drought in Northern Mexico & Texas, and the two are most… Read more
I am a retired physician, neurologist and recent master gardener. I am a fellow butterfly enthusiast and have just returned from Mexico where I saw the wintering monarchs. I have been planting many types of milkweed and observing for several years.
I planted tropical milkweed Asclepias curassavica and have been told it is terrible to do that because of… Read more
Dear Dr. Agrawal,
My name is Dana Church and I live in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. I studied bumble bees for my PhD at the University of Ottawa. I am also a children’s author. My upcoming nonfiction book for middle-grade readers (aged 8-12), entitled, “The Beekeepers: How Humans Changed the World of Bumble Bees” will be published by Scholastic on March… Read more
I was on sabbatical the 2017-2018 academic year, seems like years ago. We spent the fall semester in Missoula, Montana and the spring in Oaxaca, Mexico, our odyssey ended back in Ithaca. Blog posts from that era, highlighting monarchs and milkweed are here from the west and Mexico. But, one post I never got to until now was perhaps the… Read more
Greetings monarch and milkweed enthusiasts! I am writing with a year-in-review regarding scientific findings and observations about M&M. First, it was a wonderful breeding season, with most observers in the northeast reporting many caterpillars and adults. As monarchs now complete their long flight and southern migration this fall, we are hoping for abundance in the Mexican highlands! For more background… Read more
I am super proud to report that Amy Hastings and I have been part of a wonderful collaboration with Noah Whiteman’s and Susanne Dobler’s labs reconstructing the evolutionary history of genetic changes in monarch butterflies experimentally (and in vivo) using fruit flies. You can read the paper, just published in Nature here.
Lots is being written about it, including the… Read more
The estimates of the monarch butterfly overwintering population were announced today (Wed. Jan. 30th 2019) by WWF Mexico. The butterflies are so dense at their dozen or so mountain-top clustering sites that overwintering butterflies cannot be counted individually. Instead, the area of forest that is densely coated with butterflies (at about 5,000 butterflies per square meter looking up into the… Read more
What to do about the decline of the monarchs? The recent Thanksgiving count in California was dire. The spiral in eastern north America is no better. The monarchs need many things, and milkweed is absolutely essential. It is the only plant their caterpillars eat. And as described in my book, Monarchs and Milkweed, the two share an intimate and antagonistic… Read more
I study caterpillars. But really whatever you study, if you are into it enough, becomes part of you. And eventually, those targets of our attention and love (and well, okay, our obsession), get their revenge. I’ve spent a lot of time on Monarchs and Milkweed, studying and contemplating their toxicity. Milkweeds make poisons, monarchs eat the milkweed (and eat nothing… Read more
Gail wrote in recently about a late season monarch here in Ithaca in mid-October… below is her Q and my A.
I found your email by searching Monarch and Cornell. I just found a large Monarch outside here in Ithaca. I brought it in b/c it was on the ground barely moving. Is there anything I can… Read more
In this post, you can see where former graduate student and postdoctoral members of our lab have ended up. Although all graduate students have been American or Canadian (and settled in North America), half of the past postdocs have been European and found their way back home. Click on the flags to find their name, location, and website!
… Read more
I am sorry to miss this year’s Ecological Society of America meeting, currently ongoing in New Orleans. I lieu of ESA, next week I will be presenting at the International Society of Chemical Ecology meeting in Budapest. In addition, I am happy to report that Paul Metzler has produced a comic about last year’s meeting… one highlight is below.… Read more
Returning home after a year of sabbatical travels… it is great to be back in Ithaca, and a quick 30 minute survey of my garden revealed the intact milkweed-insect community. I promise to have the next post on Milkweeds (really Pachypodiums) and (African) Monarchs from Madagascar soon. But, for now, here is summer in the milkweed patch…… Read more
Just published in Science: a new perspective highlighting recent advances in our understanding the monarch butterfly’s declining population. Check it out here! See also commentary in today’s Washington Post.
… Read more
Sabbatical is one of those remarkable gifts of the academy. At Cornell University, after 12 semesters of service on campus, one can apply for 1-2 semesters off campus, free from most administrative and teaching duties to focus on scholarship. This year has been my third sabbatical, and every one seems better than the last. I was unquestionably able to commune… Read more
Art, biodiversity, chilies, Danaus, and extremes… that’s what I’ve found on sabbatical here in Oaxaca.This is Part IV in my series from Mexico where I am based on sabbatical leave from Cornell (click here for the 3rd post). I’m following up on my recent book Monarchs and Milkweeds: A migrating butterfly, a poisonous plant, and their remarkable story of coevolution. … Read more
The first grant season of the year is over. I got a couple grants and did not get a few others. It always feels like a mixed bag of “that’s so exciting, I can now do ALL the research mwahahahaha” to “it’s ok, I can work around the lack of funding by [insert: collaboration, reduce sample size, get rid of… Read more
Greetings monarch and milkweed enthusiasts from Oaxaca! This is Part III in my series from Mexico where I am based on sabbatical leave from Cornell (see the second post here). This post follows up on observations here that are laying the foundation for my next research and writing projects, continuing on from my recent book Monarchs and Milkweeds.… Read more
Continuing with Q&A from insightful readers:
Chris Padgett of Louisville, KY, recently wrote: “Hello, I recently read your book. I’m curious, is Monsanto or a think tank funded by their industry funding your work? I ask because I find it interesting you suggest GMOs and pesticides are not harming the Monarchs. Hearing you say this in various interviews on YouTube,… Read more
Every couple of weeks I get a very interesting email message from somebody out there who has thought deeply about monarchs and milkweed. Especially since these exchanges can be insightful and relevant to questions others may be asking, I have decided to start sharing some of these exchanges. Below is a wonderful message from a freelance writer, William Hoover, of … Read more
Hello from Oaxaca! A few updates on monarchs and milkweed, February 2018…
Click here for my photo blog on Monarchs and Milkweed in Mexico Part II
Listen to this new podcast and interview about monarchs and milkweed on Brad Grim’s Grow Milkweed forum.
See this great book review in American Entomologist
And finally, a bit of humor, I think. Illinois… Read more
I am getting settled in Oaxaca, on sabbatical leave from Cornell studying milkweeds and monarchs in Mexico. Here is my initial report on plants and insects from the first couple of weeks. The people, culture, food, and biodiversity have all met my expectations so far. What a great country! This is providing inspiration for the next chapter of what I… Read more
Holiday blog on the Princeton University Press site, click here!
… Read more
A brief update on Monarchs and Milkweed from Montana, Dec. 2017.
Monarchs and Milkweed has received the National Outdoor Book Award in the Nature and Environment Category.
Here is a fabulous book review of M&M written for the scientific journal Ecology written by Kelly Nail.
And finally, M&M made the top 10 list for the 2018 AAAS/Subaru Prize for… Read more
I recently came across a new study by a group of friends and colleagues that blew me away. Of all the environmental pollutants and nasty things we use to kill pests, who knew that fungicides (chemicals used to kill fungus) would become a problem for bumblebee pollinators. This study:
McArt, S. H., C. M. Urbanowicz, S. McCoshum, R. E.… Read more
I just received word from the Dean’s office in CALS that I have been appointed the James A. Perkins Professor of Environmental Studies at Cornell! This is a huge honor, and I am thrilled and excited.
Embarrassingly enough, I didn’t know who he was. J.A. Perkins, who passed away 20 years ago, was the 7th President of Cornell. Here is… Read more
Science education should start early! And as part of our collaborative NSF grant on milkweed genetics and ecology (with Georg Jander from BTI and Steve Broyles from Suny Cortland), we are implementing outreach projects in the K-12 Ithaca schools. Led by research support specialist, Amy Hastings, and inspired by a set of experiments by former postdoc Patty Jones, second graders… Read more