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Archive for Monday, September 14, 1992

PROF SEEKS HELP WITH BUTTERFLY COUNT

September 14, 1992

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Wanted: Census takers for monarch butterflies.

A Kansas University entomologist, concerned by reports of diminishing monarch butterfly populations, wants to enlist the help of Kansans in a monarch butterfly census.

Since monarchs normally migrate through Kansas in September and October, with large numbers expected to arrive in the next 10 days or so, butterfly counters are needed immediately.

Orley R. "Chip" Taylor Jr., KU entomology professor, says he has heard conflicting reports about the well-being of the monarch population. According to recent news reports, the monarch population was decimated by severe weather in Mexico last winter, and monarch populations in the Eastern states have been extremely low this summer.

But researchers in the Midwest, particularly in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, report that monarchs are plentiful. This raises the question of whether monarchs in the Midwest and in the Eastern states winter in the same part of Mexico.

So Taylor wants interested Kansans to help find out whether the Midwestern and Eastern monarchs migrate to different sites in Mexico.

"PERHAPS they winter in another part of Mexico and follow a migratory pathway that is unknown to lepidopterists," he said. "The reason for this concern is that the overwintering monarch populations in Mexico are extremely vulnerable, not only to weather, but to human activity such as deforestation, forest fires and insecticide use."

Thirty years ago, the wintering grounds of the monarch were discovered in the mountains northwest of Mexico City. This year, scientists discovered drastically reduced populations of monarchs there. Up to three-fourths of the butterflies apparently were killed by extreme cold.

But if monarchs traveling through the Midwest are plentiful, that could mean they are wintering at a site not yet discovered and consequently not protected from logging and other environmental disturbance.

ALREADY Taylor has enlisted the aid of more than 50 elementary and secondary school teachers and their students to tag the butterflies. More tags are available for those interested in the project.

"A large number of monarchs will come through this area in the next 10 days or so," he said. "If we have strong southwesterly winds, monarchs will linger here for a while. But they will fly into light southwesterly winds. In Kansas, the migration usually continues through the first three weeks of October."

Monarchs tend to roost on the north sides of hedgerows, he said, sometimes several thousand on a single tree. Taggers are asked to rub the scales off a small portion of the right forewing and apply the tag, taking care not to injure the butterfly before releasing it.

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