The iconic monarch butterfly, only decades ago numbering in the millions in the west, is now threatened to the point of Endangered Species protection consideration. With this knowledge, if you’ve read Part I then you’ve probably grasped the significance of the Great Rescue Operation of Oregon’s Monarchs (aka The Brookings Effect aka the Brookings Eggsplosion) and its impact on the small community of monarch conservationists in Brookings, Oregon as well as the larger network of monarch advocates throughout Oregon.
Part II features two of dozens of citizen conservationists who stepped in to help this summer and Part III continues in that realm highlighting four more. Part IV finishes up the series with the accounts of the final four monarch advocates.
Even though it’s not feasible for me to write about everyone involved in this conservation event, all participants deserve recognition. They are earth ambassadors extraordinaire whose remarkable stories and conservation efforts have contributed to the western monarch butterfly’s well-being. To honor them all, I’m highlighting a few. Here are the stories and experiences of four monarch mamas.
Monarch Mamas: Amrita, Amanda, Lee, and Patsy
In August, when Amrita Cottell, Master Gardener and lead for Bee City USA Medford, first learned about the need for help, she didn’t hesitate despite the fact she had never before reared monarchs. Of Amrita’s twenty eggs, ten survived and were released as adult butterflies.
When asked about her experience, Amrita admitted she was astounded by how much the caterpillars eat. Fortunately, her garden was well stocked with milkweed. She had such a surplus that in September when Brookings sounded another SOS that one of Ovaltine’s granddaughters had just laid another 200 eggs, Amrita sent her extra milkweed over to the new hungry bunch of monarch babies.
Highs and Lows of Monarch Captive Rearing
There’s a joy to watching caterpillars as Amrita discovered. She placed branches in the enclosure for the cats to pupate on and found great amusement from their behaviors. Turns out despite having plenty of other space to pupate, the cats all chose the same section of a branch. Amrita caught two cats in the act of disagreement over prime branch real estate. One cat was trying to make a “J” but was being disturbed by another crawling over him. The J-making cat, already hanging upside-down, threw himself up and over the branch and body-slammed the interloper.
Then comes the adult butterfly and the inevitable release. Like many, Amrita shared how,
The releasing process is so rewarding and also a little nerve wracking. After caring for the monarch so much for a month, the releasing was a bit emotional.
She was devastated only days later to find the wings of a newly released female; the suspected culprit, a scrub jay. They, like chickadees and some towhees have found monarch abdomen to be a sweet delicacy. The unsuspecting female was nectaring on a pollinator plant when she met her untimely demise.
Lessons Learned and Gratitude Given
…I realize how dependent these creatures are on a healthy environment and the resources they need to grow through their cycles. I was very thankful to become a part of this community of people helping to keep the western monarch from going extinct this year.
I am grateful for the people who came forward to help and to also rally to the call for more milkweed. I am on a mission now to grow as much milkweed as I can for next year and to help educate people about the importance of this plant being in our environment like it used to be when I was a girl. I hope to help educate people who spray along roadsides of the dangers they are causing to so many innocent insects.
We have lots of butterflies (and lots of other pollinators) here in on our property, but to see the beautiful Monarchs gliding and floating around the property again, was a tremendous experience, even if it was only for a few hours. I am hopeful that we can turn the tide and bring them back to the West in full force.
Why Amrita Cares about Monarch Conservation
Amrita remembers monarchs and milkweed from childhood but knew nothing about their requirements.
We just took so much for granted back then, believing naively that things would stay the same forever. A few years ago when I became more aware of the need to help our pollinators I realized that I had’t seen them like in year’s past. I committed to doing whatever I could to help them. So when the call came to help the Eggsplosion I said yes. I was honored and fascinated to witness every moment I could of the Monarch’s life.
Amanda Egertson‘s lifelong love for butterflies propelled her into a master’s program in which she conducted butterfly research in Yellowstone. Now, as the Stewardship Director for the Deschutes Land Trust she’s helping to ramp up their western monarch conservation efforts in response to severe population declines and the need to improve pollinator-friendly habitat including native milkweed. Deschutes is also strengthening partnerships in local communities by sharing native milkweed seed and plants with community members and organizations in Prineville, Sisters, Redmond, Bend, Madras and beyond in addition to participating in responsible rearing, tagging, and releasing of monarchs.
I’m happy to report that this year we’ve facilitated the planting of >1000 showy and narrowleaf milkweed plants in our area and have given away 60,000 native milkweed seeds. The seed was made available to us for distribution through a partnership with USFWL.
A 600-Mile Journey
In August when she heard about the Brookings Eggsplosion, like many monarch advocates, Amanda was eager to help out. Only for her, helping out meant a 300-mile, 5+ hour trip (one way). Not even the many challenges of a 10-hour drive were going to prevent Amanda from showing up for what was shaping up to be the largest monarch egg rescue in the history of the world. She packed up her family and headed to Brookings.
We met with Robert and Simone in Dennis’s backyard [Brookings] and I ended up taking 110 of Holly’s eggs back to Bend. I wouldn’t normally feel comfortable moving monarch eggs such a distance from where they were laid, but it was evident that there wasn’t enough milkweed in Brookings to feed all the hungry caterpillars, so we decided it was the best thing to do. What made it even better was sharing the eggs with others in our area – so the power of wonderment and engagement that comes with rearing monarchs could be enjoyed by many.
The Land Trust coordinated all the rearing/tagging and also reared/released 38 of them in the Bend area. Big thank you’s and kudos go to these folks that lovingly cared for the caterpillars as well: Monarch Advocates of Central Oregon (Dede Steele), Discover Your Forest (Karen Gentry), Sisters Middle School (Susie Werts), Westside Village Magnet School (Lucy and Eli Egertson), Barnes Butte Elementary (Sarah Klann and Lisa Kelly), and Clearwater Native Plant Nursery (Mike Lattig and family).
Amanda’s Foster Monarchs Final Results
Out of 110 eggs, there were 73 chrysalides. Some eggs never hatched, 8 caterpillars died in 1st instar and a few caterpillars died at later instar stages. David James confirmed the deaths were not from OE but likely from inbreeding. Seventy-two of the 73 butterflies were tagged, many tested for OE and released. For reasons unknown, one adult butterfly (#73) eclosed with crumpled wings that never fully formed.
Amanda is gathering and compiling everyone’s tagging info and OE samples and sending tagging info to Linda Kappen, which will be passed on to David James along with OE samples.
It’ll be exciting to see how many of the tagged Brookings monarchs are observed at overwintering sites in CA! And I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to visit the overwintering grounds myself – for the first time in January!
Amanda is on the board of the Western Monarch Advocates, and the Land Trust is a proud sponsor of the Western Monarch Summit this coming January in Pacific Grove. To see some of the Land Trust’s monarch-related articles from this year, click here.
Why Amanda Cares about Monarch Conservation
When Amanda was a little girl, her parents took photos of her with butterflies, one in particular of a butterfly landing on her extended hand. To her, even as a child, these winged jewels were mesmerizing. Fast forward to Amanda’s late 20s and deliberation about graduate school that ended in decision after Amanda’s grandmother mailed her the photo of a butterfly perched on Amanda’s hand. This was a sign. And one that was compounded by a later chance encounter with a woman who was researching butterflies in the Tetons and Yellowstone. Amanda spent three summers chasing butterflies throughout the alpine meadows of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem for her master’s degree.
Fast forward again to the present day. Amanda is still mesmerized by these incredibly resilient creatures.
The reason I’m so passionate about monarchs in particular is because of all they symbolize from returning spirits of ancestors to one of the most intrepid migratory insects on our planet and the fact that WE CAN DO SOMETHING to help them. I think most of us feel completely helpless in the face of climate change and so many declining species populations. But I feel like it’s not too late to help the monarchs. We can plant native milkweed – anybody can! We can plant native pollinator-friendly plants that bloom April – Oct, we can STOP using pesticides, we can protect and conserve important overwintering grounds and migratory corridors.
It’s empowering, Amanda added, to talk to many people about monarchs –in presentations, tours, and volunteer work parties. Most of the attendees want to go home with packets of milkweed seed because they are instilled with a sense of hope.
…the beautiful thing about all of this is that more milkweed and native plants = better resources for so many species, not just monarchs. And, ok, I’ll confess that in addition to all of the above, the reason I’m willing to spend countless hours clipping fresh milkweed and cleaning up caterpillar poop, is for that wondrous moment we get to witness when the monarch ecloses. There is NOTHING like watching that happen. It never gets old. The transformation might be explained by science, but to witness it, is pure magic.
Amanda feels fortunate to be part of the monarch conservation movement and humbled by the energy dedicated by countless individuals pitching in and doing whatever they can to help. Amanda’s children have inherited her love of the monarchs. Together Amanda and her children, Lucy (13) and Eli (11) created this video thanks to inspiration from a Monarchs and Milkweed workshop delivered by Tom Landis and Robert Coffan in 2018.
Amanda’s daughter, Lucy, expresses her love for monarchs through art. She created this heartfelt art piece that I also used in my Earth Day post this year.
Lucy was only twelve when she created this powerful piece. Lucy’s art and message are a reminder of why our work as conservationists is so fundamentally important: Children everywhere have the right to experience nature’s greatest gifts: the insects, plants, and animals we cherished as children, many of which are threatened, some already gone forever. We adults hold the responsibility to ensure a future for our children that is abundant in wildlife.
Highs and Lows of Monarch Captive-Rearing
Two years ago, Lee Finney, Master gardener and Bee City USA Gold Hill lead, had a mini egg dumping at her garden sanctuary from a released and tagged monarch. Lee reared, tagged and released the monarchs and to her delight, two were later reported in Santa Cruz. But this year, 2019, was a different story. Like what many other monarch advocates experienced, no orange and black fluttering wings came to Lee’s sanctuary.
Still hopeful, she spent her spare time growing milkweed, tending milkweed in her neighborhood, gathering and packaging seeds, and encouraging her neighbors not to mow down their milkweed while educating how it’s a host plant to the monarchs – the only plant on which a female monarch will lay her eggs.
Of the 40 eggs and cats, Lee gave 10 away to another foster parent, and of the remaining 30, 25 survived. All the adults were tagged and tested for OE. Lee, like the other advocates, will keep track of her foster monarchs through the local SOMA network and Dr. David James’ page Monarch Butterflies in the Pacific Northwest.
Disappointment set in this September after she learned the foster parent who was entrusted with ten eggs shared them with someone else who used Neem on milkweed leaves. Most consider Neem harmless, and while it’s considered harm reduction from synthetic pesticides, it will kill insect eggs. Those ten eggs did not survive.
Avoid all pesticides (an umbrella term for all ‘cides’ including insecticides), because they are a major contributing factor to the decline of pollinators. As monarch advocates, we simply must get accustomed to seeing other insects like aphids on or near our pollinator gardens. A healthy ecosystem has a range of insects. A healthy garden with pests will also have predators. I have in the past used a small watercolor paint brush to whisk aphids away from my milkweed just to avoid infestation. Otherwise, my tolerance grew into a peaceful coexistence.
Why Lee Cares about Monarch Conservation
This cause represents the world, as I (we) know it, slipping away. There is an out of control feeling where one may feel that they are shouting into the dark about ‘Saving Nature’. Environmental problems are vast and can be overwhelming. Releasing butterflies that you have nurtured raises hope and it enforces the belief that one person can make a difference. Multiplied by thousands of helpers, we may be able to turn the decline around. Education must continue regarding preventing the destruction of habitats and the detrimental use of pesticides.
As a lifelong bug and nature nerd, welcoming all pollinators, providing habitats for them, and then enjoying the beauty is core to Lee’s existence.
I will continue till I lay down in the sun in my flowers and simply pass on.
To Lee, growing pollinator friendly gardens including milkweed, the monarchs’ host plant, is a source of empowerment for her. Releasing the monarchs into her own ‘nurtured garden of nectars’ is rewarding and fun and gives her the sense of being a part of the exquisite monarch miracle. Before Lee releases her monarchs, she spends a brief moment letting them explore her hands and face. She makes a connection that feels like an exchange of gratitude, and off they go.
Message to Share
Lee wants folks to know that more milkweed is needed and to please sow seeds this fall. She’s also putting out a plea to sustainably harvest milkweed leaving some stalks so the plants will produce seedpods.
Below are a few sites for readers who may need additional resources or who simply want to report or track monarchs. Many of the listed Facebook pages, including Lee’s own page, NatureLee Inspired, help people deal with challenges that arise.
- Southern Oregon Monarch Advocates
- Monarch Butterflies in the Pacific Northwest
- Journey North
- Save Our Monarchs
- Monarch Watch
- Monarch Joint Venture
- Citizen Science Research, University of Minnesota
- Save the Monarch, US Fish and Wildlife
Project Monarch Health is conducting an interesting survey of citizen scientists. Being part of this study can help others understand the impacts of citizen science projects. In addition, those who participate in the study will receive milkweed seeds you can plant!
Why Patsy Cares about Monarch Conservation
Born in England, Patsy Haggerty lived in Canada until 1960 and has also lived in Tasmania and Christchurch New Zealand. In Ontario, monarchs were everywhere. Milkweed was everywhere. The Monarch Ultra Run that follows the monarch’s migration path to Mexico began in her hometown of Peterborough, Ontario, so monarchs were a big deal. But twenty-two years ago when she moved to Portland, she neither found monarchs nor a community that supported them.
So, in 2012 when she relocated to Brookings, she was thrilled to find her people: monarchists. She bought her first milkweed plant at Rusk Ranch Nature Center in Cave Junction only to discover the purchase came with an incidental stowaway, a monarch caterpillar. It was the beginning of great things to come.
Over the years the numbers of monarchs coming to her garden have increased all the while she is learning everything she can about them and gardening along with all the reasons the monarchs have been in jeopardy. This summer, she played a pivotal role with Holly Beyer, Dennis Triglia and the other BOMA (Brookings Oregon Monarch Advocates) in the Brookings’ community conservation efforts.
Trouble at the Border
In late summer, when Holly and Patsy made several Medford runs to collect countless 5-gallon buckets of milkweed from SOMA folks in the Rogue Valley, each return trip resulted in the trepidation of being pulled over at the California border food and agricultural inspection station check on highway 199. What some readers may not realize is that in order to go to Brookings from Medford, one must pass through a short section of California. As they neared the station, they held their breath, because they were driving a vehicle clearly loaded with plants. They pulled up, and the agent, without pause motioned them to pull over. Good-bye milkweed. Good-bye monarchs. All the while, suspicious gawkers drove by curious about the two lawless women with plants.
Patsy and Holly waited. Out came another inspections officer inquiring about the load. They explained about the Brookings eggsplosion and how they were simply transporting within Oregon had it not been for the section of California to cross. He checked for insects, and much to their relief, off they went.
The second time did not go as smoothly. A younger, more ambitious agent approached with an air of authority. They smelled trouble. Nervousness set in. Will the milkweed be confiscated ending the lives of innumerable hungry cats? Holly and Patsy jumped into unremitting chatter mode about the eggsplosion and monarchs and conservation and eggs and all the caterpillar mouths to feed and the lack of milkweed and their concerns for monarchs. The agent’s short-lived indoctrination to monarch conservation ended in a bleary-eyed fatigue and a wave through.
Lessons Learned: Must.Have.Milkweed
There are only about six waystations in Brookings right now. While it’s been an exciting, albeit exhausting season for Patsy and the other foster parents, she has her sights set on being more prepared next year and encouraging others to create waystations to avoid a recurrence of milkweed struggles. Patsy educates folks one-on-one in their home gardens and workplaces and helps them set up and prepare for monarch conservation. She’s also working with a local garden center in Brookings, Chet’s. Next year Chet’s will have more nectar plants and (hopefully native) milkweed.
I contacted Chet’s and was reassured to learn they do not treat their plants with any pesticides despite the fact they use a synthetic fertilizer. I believe it’s important all pollinator advocates check with their local nurseries, because sadly, treating plants with insecticides is common practice for nurseries and garden centers, especially big box stores. It’s distressing to find out you’re growing a pollinator garden that will invariably harm the very beings you’re trying to protect.
Shawn Halley of Chet’s shared with me the plant material they sell is grown in Oregon, they use only organic soil products (Garden & Bloome), they sell Botanical Interests seeds (verfied nonGMO and not treated), and Chet’s supports native plants.
According to Journey North, as a general rule, monarchs need air temperatures of at least 50°F on a sunny day and 60°F on a cloudy day. Patsy waits for a 50+ degree sunny day to release newly eclosed adult monarchs but with the cooling temperatures this late in the season, she has Nigel’s Nectar prepared in case the wait is long.
The butterflies don’t need to receive any sustenance the first day but often they need to be coaxed to put their proboscis into the nectar just to get feeding.
Patsy uses a toothpick to unfurl their proboscis and place it in the nectar. Once they get started they feed for several minutes.
Tagged, Released and What? Recovered!
As of this posting, Patsy tagged and released 293 Monarchs. She still has nineteen chrysalides and three caterpillars; 70 from her own yard and the remainder are fosters. She lost twenty, but had they been in the wild she believes probably less than twenty would have survived.
In five years, Patsy has had just one tagged monarch found and photographed. Much to her and all of our joy, one of her tagged foster monarchs was recently recovered! G1370 was given to Vicki Mion of BOMA for release at a 6-year-old’s birthday party September 9. According to Monarch Butterflies in the Pacific Northwest,
G1370 was spotted in the Fort Mason Community Garden, near the Golden Gate Bridge and just yards from downtown San Francisco! This site sometimes hosts small numbers of clustering Monarchs in a row of Eucalyptus but also has nectar.
G1370 had flown at least 289 miles!
Part IV will finish up this series with four more monarch foster parents and a tagged monarch recovery update.
A Message from David James, Monarch Butterflies in the Pacific Northwest
Many of our PNW migrating Monarchs must fly over the San Francisco urban sprawl area en route to overwintering sites at Pacific Grove, Santa Cruz etc. This no doubt presents many hazards to the butterflies, vehicle traffic and pollution to name but two. A lack of nectar for fueling the migration may be an issue too. Fall flowers in San Francisco gardens, parks and open spaces could provide an important resource for migrating Monarchs.
joyfully wearing a monarch costume in public or talking to butterflies and not caring what other people think.