Monarchs and Milkweed – Year in review & holiday blog!

DSCN2153 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

Reconstructing monarch’s evolutionary history in vivo using CRISPR flies!

monfly 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

Monarch population size over winter 2018-2019 announced, and it’s good news!

mor2 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

Milkweeds but not monarchs in Europe: natural and cultural history (and a modest proposal)

mon ellen 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

Remembrances of the last ESA meeting (2017)

2 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

On the gift of sabbatical – A view from final days studying monarchs and milkweeds in Mexico (Part V)

bvine3 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

Monarchs & Milkweed in Mexico – Part IV

aFrida 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

Monarchs & Milkweed in Mexico – Pt III

alban 1 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

Q&A about research funding to study monarch butterflies

blip 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

Q&A with a textbook author

c 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

Monarchs and Milkweed from Mexico Part II

Ornament 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

Monarchs & Milkweed in Mexico – Pt 1

diabrotica 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

Monarchs and Milkweed – update

NOBAWin250   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

Different pesticides as insect killers

blip   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

Who was James A. Perkins?

2 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

Second graders do science!

1 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

Monarch-milkweed happenings from Montana

1 Things are going well on the sabbatical in Missoula, MT!  On November 9th I will be speaking at a “friend-raiser” associated with the Montana Natural History Center and the Missoula Insectarium. And in December I will be speaking at Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum. Both talks will give an overview of monarchs and milkweed and an update on their current predicament. I… Read more

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… 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. 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 evolved, and very picky eaters indeed.… Read more