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joe-pye-weed.jpgWhile many people might not think much diversity could exist in their small well-manicured lawn or their local park's open space, these spaces actually represent a great opportunity to create insect habitat. By planting native vegetation instead of monocultures or non-native plants, we have a chance to transform these areas into habitat for native insects. Monocultures, such as a typical turfgrass lawn, or spaces with non-native plants don't typically support much insect life. By instead planting native plants that insects have co-evolved with, we can provide a food source for all life-stages of important insects.

Insects are extremely important for our ecosystem, not only for their incredible diversity, beauty, and services such as pollination, but also because they provide a large amount of the world's biomass. Many creatures, ranging from birds to lizards, eat insects, and those creatures are in turn eaten by others. However, in order for there to be insects, they must have a food source. Many insects are specialists that can only feed on a limited number of plant species, typically plants that they have evolved with over long time periods. In addition to serving as a food source and creating native insect habitat, native plants also tend to be adapted for the local climate, meaning that they tend to require less water and maintenance.

While more insect habitat is ideal, even just one or two native plants can make a difference. To start, find out what plants are native in your area. In Minnesota, some of my favorite native plants are liatris, asters, and of course the 13 different MN-native species of milkweed! It is also important to plant native trees, many of which also serve as a host plant for many insects. When purchasing plants, make sure that the plants haven't been treated with systemic pesticides. For more information on the importance of native plants, check out Douglas Tallamy's book "Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants." Good luck and happy planting!

Kelly Nail

University of Minnesota Monarch Lab


Welcome to another summer of the D2D eZine! Please use this as a resource to work with the other Driven to Discover Citizen Science teams! This summer we will have fewer issues - only one each month on the last Friday of the month. Each issue will have tips, updates, links and more to help your summer run smoothly. We love to share stories from our participants too, so please send us some pictures, video links, stories, and any questions or comments you may have. Other teams are a great resource too, especially if you are faced with a challenge you're not quite sure how to conquer. Reach out to your peers! They will have plenty to offer.

We hope you have a wonderful summer of citizen science and authentic science inquiry - remember we are here for you!


monarch.jpgIn June 2013 I wrote an article for this eZine that said "MLMP volunteers all over the U.S. and Canada are seeing very few, if any, monarch adults, eggs, or caterpillars this summer." This year, I'm happy to report that the news is better. While the overwintering population last winter was smaller than ever, and we had low reports out of the south, MLMP volunteers in the upper midwestern U.S. are reporting monarch eggs, larvae and adults. The numbers are lower than average, but still seem to suggest that the population may be rebounding. I'm cautiously optimistic, and send out a sigh of relief and a big "Hurray"! We hope that you're seeing monarchs and other interesting things in your milkweed patches, and that you realize how valuable your data are. Please be sure to report your findings, and check out the data from other MLMP sites throughout the U.S.! Let us know if you have any questions about collecting or reporting data.

While it's hard to find monarch "J's" and pupae in the wild, MLMP volunteer Patti Keiper sent in the above picture of a monarch that was discovered near the Rockford Road Library in Crystal, Minnesota in summer 2012. Unfortunately, a lawn service was about to spray and weed whip baby milkweed plants off the cedar chip bed it was in, but library staff rescued the plant and the monarch, as well as other larvae in the bed.

Karen Oberhauser

University of Minnesota Monarch Lab


monarch1.jpgLet's face it, it has not been a lot of fun to monitor monarch eggs and larvae in 2013. In fact, just sitting down to write this article made me a little depressed, so I'm going to walk into my yard (it's August 24, 2013) and see if I can cheer myself up by seeing some monarchs.......... I'm back, and I saw two, one on blazing star and one on ironweed. So, they're out there, and I have the pictures to prove it.

Just what do the numbers show? While we wait until the end of the season when everyone has entered all of their data to do careful analyses, I pulled up the data from Minnesota, where 33 sites are being monitored this summer. The data from other northern states look pretty much the same. These sites range from the Gunflint Trail way up in northeastern MN, where David MacLean has been monitoring a patch of swamp milkweed since 2010 (David saw no eggs or larvae at all in 2013), to New London-Spicer in west-central MN where Laura Molenaar and many students have been monitoring milkweed patches since 2004 (they saw a few monarchs this year), to many sites in the Minneapolis-St Paul metro area (my daughters and I have monitored our yard since 2002, and on my best day this year I found 20 eggs on about 135 plants).

The graph below shows egg densities (as eggs per milkweed plant monitored, so a value of 0.20 means that there were 20 eggs on 100 plants, and value of 0.02 means there were 2 eggs on 100 plants).


mlmp egg density data-mn chart.jpg

  • 2011 was a "normal" year (see the blue line on the graph). The monarchs came back in late May, had a May peak of about 0.27 eggs per milkweed, and a July peak of about 0.16 eggs per milkweed (about 16 per 100 plants).
  • 2012 was unusual (see the red line on the graph); remember our early spring? The monarchs came back about a month early in very high numbers. Note the peak of about 0.60 eggs per milkweed in early May. But then the population crashed, and our early July peak was only about 0.10 eggs per milkweed. The crash was probably due to a combination of the heat and lack of rain, which was hard on the milkweed and the monarchs, and high numbers of predators.
  • 2013 has been terrible from the start (see the green line on the graph). After the lowest overwintering population ever, the monarchs came back late, and the numbers have stayed low. Our peak this summer was during the week of July 22, when the egg density was 0.028; that means people are seeing fewer than 3 eggs for every 100 plants they observe. The graph doesn't show caterpillar data (you can see these numbers online), but out of 14,313 times that MN MLMP observers have looked at a milkweed plant this summer, they have only seen 96 caterpillars, and only 14 5th instars.
What does this mean for monarchs? It means they need all of the help they can get. I'm getting a lot of e-mails from people all over asking me what they can do to help monarchs, and here's what I say. There are really 4 categories of things you can do to help these amazing insects flourish.
  • First, plant milkweed and nectar sources. If you have an MLMP site, you're monarch2.jpgprobably already doing this, but consider adding more plants if possible. Monarchs have lost a lot of habitat with the advent of herbicide-tolerant crops and expanding human habitation.
  • Second, educate others and advocate for monarch conservation. For example, you can register your site as a monarch Waystation, and put up a sign that recognizes that registration (see http://monarchwatch.org/waystations/ for more info). You can talk to friends and neighbors, ask local or county land managers to do things like avoid mowing ditches when monarch larvae might be present, or advocate limiting insecticide spraying at the local, state or national level.
  • Third, get involved in a monarch citizen science program and contribute data that will help us manage monarchs more effectively. The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, Journey North, and Project Monarch Health are all good possibilities, and all have websites with clear directions.
  • Finally, donate money to conservation organizations like the Monarch Butterfly Fund or the Monarch Joint Venture. These organizations work on monarch conservation in Mexico and the US, respectively.

It's my hope that the MLMP does not become a tool that simply records the demise of monarchs. Rather, it should be a tool that energizes people to do what they can, and helps us understand the best ways to help monarchs survive in a changing world.

Karen Oberhauser

University of Minnesota Monarch Lab

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