New study on monarch declines

mon ellen An excellent new study finds that climate, habitat loss (in both Mexico and the USA), disease, & insecticides contribute to decline of monarch butterflies.  Although one could quibble with the emphasis placed on discussion of various issues, what I appreciate is the quantitative nature and comprehensiveness of the study, and the attempt to include as many factors as possible.  Perhaps… Read more

Milkweeds (and monarchs) across the middle of America

29 IO On July 24th 2017, I set out with my family from Ithaca, NY, for year-long sabbatical leave from Cornell University.  Our destination for the fall semester is Missoula, Montana, but our first major stop was a family visit in Urbana, IL.  Given my travel companions, especially the kids Jasper (12) and Anna (8), we decided to take our time driving… Read more

Summer in the milkweed patch

11 It’s peak season for milkweed and the village of insects that make milkweed its home.  In my book on Monarchs and Milkweed, I devote an entire chapter to these diverse and fascinating other milkweed insects.  Below are photos from two days last week (July 6 and 7th), one set from my front yard and the other from Shawangunk National Grassland Preserve, both… Read more

Update: monarchs and milkweed

3 Here is an update on monarch and milkweed happenings… Over the past few weeks I have visited several natural history venues for a modest book tour — it has gone very well, with the added pleasure of meeting some well-known citizen scientists and old friends.  It started with a Chats in the Stacks at Cornell which is now online on youtube!… Read more

A primer on coevolution: monarch & milkweeds

Asclepias spp seed diversity (ellen woods) Coevolution is a special kind of evolution. And monarchs and milkweeds exemplify this special process. In particular, what makes coevolution special is reciprocity. In other words, coevolution is one species that evolves in response to the other, and the other species evolves in response to the first. Thus, it is a back-and-forth that has the potential to spiral out of… Read more

Monarch remigration, book festival, and breakfast tacos

1 I recently returned from a spring trip to the Austin, TX area in search of re-migrating monarch butterflies: 8-month old animals weighing less than a dollar bill, that had traveled for thousands of miles, rested in Mexico for 5 months, and crossed the border again.  A postdoc in the lab, Patty Jones, joined for the trip, which auspiciously started with… Read more

Q&A: Monarchs and Milkweed

welshii2 The following is a Q&A just posted to the Princeton University Press website and blog.
Asclepias welshii, Coral Pink Sand Dunes
What makes monarchs and milkweeds so special? AA: Monarchs and milkweed are remarkable creatures, they’re on a wild ride! From the monarch’s perspective, its only food as a caterpillar is the milkweed plant. This makes them highly specialized, highly… Read more

Early reviews & events: Monarchs and Milkweed

Monarchs and Milkweed is now available, although the official release date from Princeton University Press in April 11. On Saturday April 8th, I will be participating in the San Antonio Book Festival.  Early reviews have been positive (thank you!), including a whirlwind summary in the Washington Post, which emphasizes conservation issues and my argument that milkweed limitation is not driving the decline of monarchs.  On the left… Read more

The oldest butterfly?

It’s unclear when humans became humans.  Presumably it was a gradual growth of our consciousness over the eons.  There are some things, however, that appear to distinguish us from most other animals.  For example, our artistic depictions.  From the deepest, darkest caves have emerged pictures of humanity from thousands of years ago.  And in an Egyptian tomb, that of Nebamun,… Read more

Monarch population size over winter 2016-2017 announced!

The estimates of the monarch butterfly overwintering population were announced Thursday February 9th by WWF Mexico.  The butterflies are so dense at their dozen or so mountain-top clustering sites that overwintering butterflies cannot be counted.  Instead, the area of forest that is densely coated with butterflies (at about 5,000 butterflies per square meter looking up into the canopy) is estimated… Read more

Where do monarch butterflies come from?

The plight of monarch butterflies is often in the news and many scientists around the world are working hard to understand their annual migratory cycle.  How do the monarchs produced during summer in the northern reaches of America contribute to the overwintering population in Mexico?  The origins of monarch butterflies that make it to Mexico has been hotly debated and… Read more

Monarch book!

My new book, Monarchs and Milkweed, a highly illustrated popular science book will be available in late March from Princeton University Press.   Here is what Carl Safina, author of Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, says: It’s impossible to imagine the world without monarch butterflies. But they face mounting challenges. This clear, fact-packed book looks at this astonishing and… Read more