Longtime leader of KU’s Monarch Watch to retire, but his family is donating $1.4M for the butterfly program

photo by: John Young

Monarch Watch director Chip Taylor gets a little help from Haylee Diers, 7, of Baldwin City, in releasing a tagged monarch butterfly during the Monarch Watch open house in this 2015 file phot at Foley Hall, 2021 Constant Ave., on Kansas University's west campus. On Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, Monarch Watch will be hosting a monarch tagging event from 7:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. below the southeast corner of the Clinton Lake dam. The public is invited to attend and help tag butterflies.

The longtime leader of a Lawrence-based butterfly program that is watched from around the world has given a $1.4 million gift to the University of Kansas to benefit that program.

Orley “Chip” Taylor of Monarch Watch renown and his wife, Toni, have made the gift to establish the Chip and Toni Taylor Professorship, KU Endowment has announced.

Chip Taylor said his family is making the donation, in part, because he is retiring from the program that he co-founded nearly 30 years ago.

“I turned 85 in August, and I have to step away in order to find enough time to finish six manuscripts and a couple of experiments — one of which has given me an idea for a new community science project,” Chip Taylor said. “There is always something new, and even if I’m not directing Monarch Watch, I’ll continue to contribute.”

Chip Taylor and Brad Williamson, a local high school science teacher, started Monarch Watch as a research project. The idea was to learn more about the monarch migration by applying tags to the monarchs’ wings. However, they knew that to get a reasonable amount of data they had to have a large number of taggers. To recruit taggers, they sent out news releases to Iowa early in the tagging season and later to Texas as well as a large number of schools in Kansas. The response was overwhelming, with more than 1,000 people volunteering to tag monarchs. With that, Monarch Watch was born.

Taylor estimates volunteers have tagged more than 2 million butterflies in the last 29 years. Of these, more than 20,000 have been recovered in Mexico. The data has proven to be a gold mine and has yielded information about the timing and pace of the migration, the success of monarchs in reaching Mexico from different regions, the effects of droughts and more, Taylor told KU Endowment.

photo by: John Young

Chip Taylor, of Monarch Watch, demonstrates the proper way to hold and tag a butterfly during a Monarch Watch tagging event in September 2016 at the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center.

In addition to the tagging program, Taylor and the Monarch Watch team are active in distributing milkweeds, the host plants for monarch caterpillars, through a number of programs. These efforts began as a response to the rapid decline in milkweeds that followed the adoption of herbicide-tolerant crops. To compensate for these declines, Monarch Watch initiated the Monarch Waystation program in 2005. The public was encouraged to create habitats for monarchs by planting milkweeds and nectar-producing plants in home gardens, at schools, businesses and other public places, Taylor said in a press release issued by KU.

Today, there are more than 41,500 registered Monarch Waystations, including habitats in nine countries, signifying the international reach of Monarch Watch, according to information from the university. Overall, more than 1 million milkweeds have been distributed through various campaigns since 2010. The goal of these efforts has been to sustain the monarch migration.

Taylor can trace his love of nature, including butterflies, to summers spent on his grandmother’s land in Wisconsin.

“I was always growing or nurturing something,” he said in the release. “It’s no surprise to me that the first research project I did on monarch butterflies has led to this. For me, it’s important that we sustain the monarch migration. The loss of monarchs would mean that we have lost habitats that support a large number of species ranging from important pollinators to hawks and owls. It’s all about sustaining the environment that sustains us.”

Monarch watch director Chip Taylor holds a butterfly gently in his mouth while conducting a brief class Sept. 18, 2010, at a monarch tagging event in the Baker Wetlands.

KU is currently accepting applications for the professorship that Taylor said will be critical to the program’s future success. He said the ideal candidate will have to be comfortable interacting with the press and the public, hosting events and engaging community scientists from all walks of life.

Chip and Toni Taylor told KU Endowment that they were in a position to make a large financial gift to the Monarch Watch program, in part, because they invested in a little known tech company years ago. That company was Apple.

“I guess that was a pretty good investment,” Taylor said. “And investing in Monarch Watch is equally important. We need about $3 million to set up an endowed fund that will support the professorship and Monarch Watch for generations to come. We have provided the seed money, and we hope others will chip in for monarchs and help us reach our goal.”

KU Endowment, the fundraising arm for the university, will administer gifts for the program.

photo by: Ashley Golledge

A monarch butterfly pollinates a flower at the Baker Wetlands on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018.

photo by: Richard Gwin/Journal-World

Chip Taylor, director of Monarch Watch worked with some Monarch Butterfly’s mating in this file photo as a mating pair landed on his nose, as the upcoming Monarch Watch Open House, is coming up as Taylor wants people to know about their dwindling populations.

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