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Monarch Butterfly Migration Indicates Species Recovery
AUSTIN, Texas — The cool front that blew through Texas this week brought the leading edge of the annual migration of millions of monarch butterflies traveling south to their Mexico wintering grounds, and early indications are the monarch population has finally recovered from the severe snow storm that struck overwintering colonies in 2004.
Scientists say monarch numbers stayed at low ebb though the unusually cool summer of 2004, but due to favorable breeding conditions this summer, they appear to be at or above their 11-year population average.
"Hundreds to thousands of monarchs have been streaming by east of Sonora, Texas since Oct. 3," said Mike Quinn, an entomologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, who said recent cool fronts also brought clusters of roosting monarchs to the Abilene area and earlier reports had monarchs moving through Wichita Falls.
"We almost always get reports of good numbers of butterflies from Wichita Falls, Abilene, San Angelo, to Del Rio as these cities sit atop the center of the monarch's Central Flyway though Texas," said Quinn, "but what's really exciting is that were now getting reports of thousands of monarchs as far west as Midland and Odessa. Donna Kelly reported an estimated 20,000 monarchs at a pecan orchard about 30 miles southeast of Midland on Oct. 1. When large numbers of monarchs are reported outside of the core of the Central Flyway, which indicates the butterflies are having a really good year."
The number and distribution of monarchs flying south through Texas appear to confirm predictions by Chip Taylor of the Monarch Watch program based at the University of Kansas that this winter's monarch population "may even exceed the long term average."
Early last week the bulk of the monarchs were still north of the Red River. But Quinn believes the recent cold front "should accelerate their movement on down and give us a better indication of this year's population size."
An ultralight airplane decorated as a monarch butterfly is currently tracking the monarch's migration through Texas. The plane crew (nick-named Papalotzin, Aztec for "royal butterfly") started their journey in southeastern Canada and will end up at the butterfly sanctuaries in central Mexico. The objective of pilot and tracking crew is to increase awareness of the challenges that the monarchs face throughout their astonishing journey to Mexico and back.
The next three weeks represent the last opportunity to assess the migration size before the butterflies all move into Mexico. Scientists are urging the public to help assess the strength of the monarch migration through Texas by reporting when and where double-digit or greater numbers of monarchs are seen this month. Scientists are this year asking people to please not report sightings of individual butterflies, but instead to focus on reporting larger monarch groups. Monarch group sightings may be reported to Quinn by e-mail (Mike.Quinn@tpwd.texas.gov), or by phone at (512) 912-7059.
On the Net:
- Monarch Watch: http://www.monarchwatch.org/
- Papalotzin ultralight project: http://www.papalotzin.com/
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