This is the final segment of a 4-part series describing the awe-inspiring story of the Brookings eggsplosion from this past summer. Together, the four segments highlight the actions of more than a dozen monarch advocates who dedicated their hearts, many hours, and much energy to helping the monarch butterfly thrive.
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 IV highlights the extraordinary journeys of two monarch mamas and two monarch papas with an honorable mention of a tagging expert.
The Monarch Mamas and Papas
Now that all the leaves are brown and the sky is gray, the monarchs have been for a flight on an autumn’s day. They’ll be safe and warm when they pass the San Francisco bay. (Central Coast of) California dreamin’ on such an autumn’s day.
Lynn Kunstman, a Jackson County Master Gardener (JCMGA) and Oregon State University Extension instructor for the JCMGA is a devoted pollinator advocate who has been featured on Medford’s Five on Five News program.
Why Lynn Cares about Monarch Conservation
Lynn’s desire to help with the 2019 Brookings explosion stems from the knowledge that survival in the wild is around 1% and that rearing from egg to adult gets much higher survival numbers. She had a 56% survival rate rearing and releasing 61 of the 99 eggs and cats she fostered from SOMA through Brookings. Of 13 eggs she found in her yard this summer, 4 became caterpillars and 2 matured to release.
As an ardent educator, Lynn always tries to get the neighbors involved and spends time teaching each time she has a home garden monarch release.
The tagged monarch butterflies are part of the Citizen Science research of Dr. David James, at Washington State University (WSU). He posts sightings of them on his Facebook page, Monarch Butterflies in the Pacific Northwest. There, anyone can follow the remarkable journey of tagged monarchs. Last year (2018) one of Lynn’s butterflies was spotted in Petaluma California 13 days after release –287 miles from Medford.
In 2017 a monarch released in Redmond WA (Sep 3) was found in San Luis Obispo (Nov 17). Having flown 859 miles, it’s the longest recorded migration by a western monarch. Dr. James points out that calculating a monarch’s flight distance is based on a straight line from Point A to Point B on a map. So the recorded distance is actually the minimum distance of a monarch’s migration.
A Message from Lynn
I think it is important to emphasize that the BEST way we can help Monarchs is to plant milkweed AS WELL as native shrubs and trees. The native shrubs and trees and herbs are food for OTHER caterpillar species, and by growing MANY caterpillar species, we might decrease the predation pressure on monarchs.
As a former US Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, Molly Monroe worked on habitat restoration as well as promoting backyard habitats through a local nonprofit and the National Wildlife Federation, both of which included planting milkweed.
A year earlier in 2015 Molly and her family traveled from their hometown of Corvallis, Oregon to Pacific Grove and that’s where they discovered Dr. James’ tagging program and were elated to be a part of it summer 2016. Their participation was rewarded when their rearing efforts resulted in brilliant orange wings that took flight and one of them, A4853, even made local history.
Molly’s 5-year-old daughter, Amelia Jebousek, raised, tagged, and released little Miss A4853 who was then spotted at various points – including a nectar refueling stop in San Francisco – on the journey to her overwintering site. Miss A4853 who traveled over 540 miles was seen on four different occasions at four different locations between her release in Corvallis on September 18 and the last place spotted at Moran Lake in Santa Cruz on December 30. Read the fascinating journey of Amelia’s monarch, Ms. A4853 here in a detailed article by Dr. David James.
The young conservationist’s efforts were also celebrated in the Oregonian. This is how we perpetuate a movement: positive reinforcement for the children whose compassion manifests in the actions that help save the planet.
Why Molly Cares about Monarch Conservation
I really enjoy connecting people to nature, and most importantly connecting our youth with all things wild! The monarch is such a great ambassador for both of these things with its beauty, the incredible migration, and its link to specific habitat conditions. Really helps everyone visualize the puzzle and how they can play a role in its yearly cycles.
Molly has dedicated much of her career to helping rare and endangered species, many of which have relied on a helping hand above and beyond habitat enhancement (California condor, Northern spotted owl, Fender’s blue butterfly, etc). This dedication is what motivated Molly to drive hundreds of miles for about 100 monarchs. Read on.
For a few years, Molly, like other western monarch advocates, has been feeling discouraged about the painfully low western monarch numbers and the plummeting data on wintering estimates. Like others, myself included, her spirits got a boost when she heard about the Brookings eggsplosion.
Three Women Connected on the Wings of Compassion
On two occasions in August and September two monarch advocates, Stephanie Hazen, a retired veterinarian from Salem and Patti Ferris from Portland, responded respectively to Holly Beyer’s and Dennis Triglia SOS alerts for help with the Brookings eggplosion. Both women drove hundreds of miles, Patti 680 in one day, returning to their homes with hundreds of eggs. Those eggs were dispersed among the community, and Patti successfully reared 162 of them herself.
Molly received eggs from both women on each occasion. Rearing dozens of eggs at her home, Molly also reached out to her network to spread the love. This included a preschool in Dallas, Oregon, a native plant nursery in Corvallis, and four 3rd grade classrooms that together with a USFWS friend, Molly set-up with enclosures and tiny caterpillars. All four schools fed their foster babies on milkweed growing from their own pollinator gardens.
Education at its best.
Molly, however, in September after receiving the second batch from Patti, found herself driving around town in search of the youngest, newest leaves for cats to devour, because by this point in the season, her milkweed had all gone to seed. The cats were having nothing to do with the aging, leathery milkweed leaves.
We were all amazed at how much extra time they seemed to be eating and were told this last generation really needed to fatten up!
A Long and Winding Road – Miles and Miles for Monarchs
Molly started tagging and releasing her monarchs in Corvallis on September 24, only the weather in central-western Oregon was quickly deteriorating with temps dropping below optimal flying conditions. This posed a hazard for newly eclosed monarchs. Patti in Portland was bumping up against the same issue, so she decided to bring her tagged adults south for a head start, but she couldn’t fit them all in her car. A dilemma.
On September 27th, for a climate rally in Corvallis, Patti drove from Portland with a dozen monarchs and joined Molly for a tagging and releasing presentation. Molly also maximized on this platform to educate rally-goers about the detrimental impact climate change has on the monarchs.
Older and younger rally-goers alike loved the experience, but the weather turned wet and windy placing newly tagged and released monarchs in harm’s way. Something had to be done and fast. Quickly, they began recapturing the newly released monarchs as they fell from the trees.
What to Do Now?
After deliberating on the best location without going all the way back to Brookings, Molly’s friend and USFWS colleague, Laila Lienesch, stepped up to the task and on September 28 drove the recaptured adults 200 miles roundtrip to the Elkton Community Education Center.
The following day, Molly made a trek from Corvallis to Portland to pick up Patti’s enclosures and brood. She drove back to Corvallis to pick up the rest of her tagged adults and her daughter Amelia, and together they went back to Elkton Community Center, which had a flower garden in bloom and was ten degrees warmer. They were relieved to find a safe place for their foster babies; 33 tagged monarchs and 90 chrysalides. The folks at Elkton Community Center promised to tag and release the chrysalides yet to eclose. A huge storm hampered their drive back to Corvallis giving Molly a sense of relief that she moved the monarchs far enough south and out of the storm’s path.
They were safe.
That day, Molly drove 10 hours and 360 miles in the name of monarch conservation. At this point in the story, I calculate that Molly, Stephanie, Patti, and Laila drove 2000 miles and 36 hours for the transport of monarch eggs and caterpillars.
The Story Doesn’t End There
As we’ve all learned from this miraculous event in Brookings, it is in fact not a single event but a series of events that continue to unfold. With each person I’ve highlighted in this story, there are at least two if not ten other people involved. The extraordinary network of compassion is like the roots of an ancient Sequoia spanning great distances and connecting with and touching the roots of hundreds of other trees creating its own thriving ecosystem to far-reaching corners of the western map
On October 7, Molly released two more monarchs at her daughter’s school. It was a cool but sunny day. All went well. But the days were changing quickly and Molly was not comfortable waiting for her last 8 chrysalides and one tagged adult to face the obstacles of a central Oregonian Autumn. So, on October 8, she met up with Ed Nunez and his wife, both friends of Patti and happy participants in this saga. They were transporting the rest of Patti’s monarchs to Holly in Brookings, so they took Molly’s bunch as well. Not quite yet a monarch conservationist, Ed was glad to be entrusted with the precious cargo and felt like he and his wife were “part of a good thing.”
Yes, a good thing indeed.
Another 680-mile roundtrip, 10-hour drive. All made it safely to Brookings with a few monarchs eclosing en route. Holly commented on how much bigger the northern Oregonian monarchs were, which might have been a result of abundant milkweed in the north.
Back at home, Molly was happy to have her kitchen table back and to return to a sense of normalcy. Then on October 10, she received a frantic call from Muddy Creek Charter School, one of the schools Molly set up to rear monarchs. There were two monarchs ready to tag and release. The weather had turned cold and dreary, and all were concerned about their ability to migrate. So, Molly took the monarchs. The following day she and Amelia made one final trek south to Elkton to release the school’s monarchs along with 10 more in holding at the Community Center. Another 200 miles.
By now five individuals had driven roughly 2900 miles and 46 hours to ensure a safer journey for these precious monarchs. These are conservative estimates. It’s more likely the drive time was well over 55 hours.
Recently, Molly received a copy of Holly’s tag sheets and learned that the last of her adults was released on October 13 right back where she had started as an egg in Brookings.
This summer, Molly like the other monarch conservationists was freely willing to overextend herself and sacrifice time and energy for the preservation of the western monarch. We do this because we all dream of seeing an abundance of monarchs roaming through the Pacific Northwest again.
Monarchs and Climate Change: A Message from Molly
Climate change can have an impact on both breeding and wintering habitats for monarch butterflies. I believe all critters that rely on specific plants and habitat conditions have a greater risk of declining as they compete with invasive species and development. The destruction of unique prairie habitats reduces the amounts of milkweed available and an ever growing distance between patches can make it difficult for monarchs to find. Drought can also be a factor as milkweed and other sources of nectar aren’t as readily available. In the winter months, the dwindling groves of trees in California are susceptible to catastrophic weather events. Keeping the puzzle intact is crucial to provide for monarchs on both ends of their migratory paths.
Glenn Risley has been a Jackson County Master Gardener since 2010, but his JCMGA (Jackson County Master Gardener Association) efforts don’t stop there! In addition to being a greenhouse/practicum mentor (7 years), Glenn worked the Wildflower Garden (3 years), was a Board of Directors alternate (2 years), became the Gardens and Grounds lead (2 years), worked every Spring Garden Fair since 2010, and is on the receiving end of milkweed-related Plant Clinic field calls.
Why Glenn Cares about Monarch Conservation
Each summer when he was a boy, Glenn Risley would find a pretty striped caterpillar on a plant in his family’s garden in Sparks, Nevada. He would place the caterpillar in a glass jar with plenty of milkweed leaves, poke holes in the lid, and close it. Every day he would spend time checking on his caterpillar watching her grow bigger and bigger until she formed a chrysalis eventually eclosing as a beautiful orange and black butterfly. When she was ready, Glenn would release the monarch into his yard and observe while she received sustenance from the flowers in the garden eventually flying away never to be seen again. Since childhood, Glenn has had a symbiotic relationship with the monarchs.
A few years ago, I saw an article about Tom Landis in the Daily Independent. He discussed the declining monarch population and the need for more habitat, specifically more milkweed. I was a mentor in the Master Gardener Practicum at the time and thought milkweed may be a new species we could grow and sell at the Spring Garden Fair.
The first thing I did was check the Oregon Noxious Weed list in make sure Asclepias, milkweed, was not on the list, it was not. As a result, I started doing research on milkweed and the monarchs. I found that Oregon has three native milkweeds; A. speciosa, Showy; A. fascicularis, Narrow Leaf and A. Cordifolia, Heart Leaf. The first two are pretty easy to grow, they grow like weeds. The third, Heart Leaf, requires very specific conditions so we have had limited success with it.
The first year was a learning experience for Glenn. Still, despite being a novice, Glenn helped the Jackson County Master Gardener Association (JCMGA) sell some seedlings and mature plants (started from rhizomes) at the annual spring fair. Since then the milkweed has been a big seller for the JCMGA. They now sell pots with seedlings and packets of seeds that have been prepared for immediate planting. Glenn also helped the Master Gardeners create a monarch waystation in the wildflower garden. As one of the demonstration gardens at Oregon State University’s extension where the JCMGA operates, Glenn’s waystation is one of 158 in Oregon and 26,573 nationwide.
I consider Glenn the JCMGA in-house milkweed expert, and this past summer he sourced and harvested milkweed throughout the Rogue Valley and made four trips back and forth to Brookings transporting up to 40 gallons of cuttings returning on two occasions with eggs and cats to disperse among the many monarch advocates in the Rogue Valley.
Dennis Triglia, retired research biologist, member of BOMA (Brookings Oregon Monarch Advocates), former Brookings city council member, Master Gardener, and the main foster papa in the Brookings Eggsplosion, was a monarch daddy-o to 162 tagged butterflies this year. The last of his foster butterflies was released on November 2nd. He’s been rearing monarchs for four years, but this year far exceeded his and his BOMA friends’ expectations. Dennis is a local celebrity having been featured this past October in an interview about the Brookings monarch eggsplosion with Rayvan Vares on TV KOBI5 out of Medford.
This is Dennis’ captivating account all told in his own words:
We made many new friends with fellow “monarchists” who came from all over Oregon to pick up eggs to rear and to bring us milkweed to sustain the hundreds of “caterpiggles” we are raising. We had plenty of monarchs to release at our annual monarch festival in September to the delight of children and adults alike!
The fact that only about 27,000 individual monarchs survived last year at 100 overwintering sites in central California led me to believe that we wouldn’t be seeing any monarchs this season. So, you can imagine my and Holly’s surprise when Ovaltine appeared on the scene, leaving us with almost 600 eggs. We reared most of this initial batch of eggs and released hundreds of what we expected to be 3rd generation monarchs. About nine days after release, pregnant females (all tagged) came back laying eggs not only at my and Holly’s Monarch Waystations, but all over town. Super Monarch Mama Holly was spending about 11 hours a day caring for the “cats”, especially when I decided to go to Europe for 2 weeks in mid-September.
The weird thing is that, we expected all of the 3rd generation’s progeny to be the migrating super generation who would get their fill of nectar to sustain them for their journey. This generation lives up to 9 months compared with the first three generations, each of which lives only about 3 to 6 weeks with the sole purpose of reproducing.
The super generation typically undergoes sexual diapause, delaying sexual maturity until after their migration, and this has already been observed since about 6 of the tagged monarchs have already made it to the overwintering areas (including 2 of mine) or have been spotted along the way there by astute citizen scientists.
HOWEVER, several tagged monarchs have been hanging around Brookings and on October 31, Holly found another dozen or so eggs, which is, at least to me, completely unexpected. Plus, Holly lives near a cemetery and at the very back of the cemetery, she has been seeing a couple of monarchs in the eucalyptus trees there.
Dennis wonders, will they ever migrate? Will a small subpopulation attempt to overwinter there in Brookings? The eggs that Holly recently found, assuming they survive, will not eclose until after December 1st. Will they try to migrate then?
There are so many questions and we won’t have the answers until about February 2020, but we can be assured that some of what we thought we knew may have to be re-visited. To me, as a retired research biologist, this is my favorite part of the story.
Honorable Mention: Linda Kappen
Dr. David James and the three SOMA founders, Robert Coffan, Tom Landis, and Linda Kappen, each deserve their own posts given how much of their lives they dedicate to saving the western monarch. For now, I want to give a shout-out to Linda Kappen the Southern Oregon tagging specialist, co-author of a scientific paper about monarch tagging with Dr. David James, lepidopterists, naturalist, and founder of the Facebook page Butterflies and Moths of the Pacific Northwest.
Adventures in Tagging
Linda is the local Southern Oregon tagging specialist. She issues tags for monarchs through Dr. David James at WSU. She began rearing and tagging monarchs in 2014 at Applegate School where she has worked as an Educational Assistant for 19 years and where she created a Butterfly Habitat with students and community members. The first year of scientific tagging in Oregon was 2014, and much to Linda’s amazement, one of her tagged monarchs was spotted overwintering along the California coast. Linda made a state record: the first tagged Oregon monarch to be recovered.
On September 15, 2015, Linda tagged a wild male monarch, A3264, at the Applegate School in southern Oregon. A3264 was sighted twice by David James at Pismo Beach on California’s central coast. This was the first recorded wild monarch tagged and recovered from Oregon—another Oregon record for Linda.
Reporting in for 2019
Now, it’s 2019, and Linda has been very busy with an estimated 2500 tags issued, 2000 of which were used for Rogue Valley and Brookings – almost twice the amount from 2018 (1096) and 11% more than 2017 (1797).
Linda spent the summer answering requests for tags and mailing them out to advocates. She did this as a volunteer and paid for mailers out of pocket. Luckily, quite a few people made donations when she put a request out for stamps.
The number of citizen scientists who were tagging monarchs varies each season. This year created a special situation with the large amounts of eggs laid in Brookings, Oregon. Many people from the Rogue Valley and beyond all the way to Bend, Elkton, Corvallis, Portland got in on the action of helping them raise the many caterpillars. Our Brookings group eventually ran out of milkweed creating a caravan of milkweed to be delivered to Brookings from many places in southern Oregon and elsewhere in the state resulting in as many as 40 different people rearing and tagging monarchs.
Confirming the importance of growing a monarch waystation, Linda mentioned how the locations the butterflies chose to lay eggs and breed were rich in flowers with nectar and Oregon’s two native milkweeds.
About the Monarch Tag
The small, 0.3-inch in diameter, round tag is made from polypropylene. Each tag has its own unique number and includes an email address of where to send a found tag number. There is a light sticky substance that adheres to the monarch’s hind ventral wing inside the larger sometimes called mitten shaped cell. It is placed in the middle of this shape slightly closer to the abdomen. The tag is so light it does not impede a monarch’s flight. In the eastern US, many tagged monarchs have made it to Mexico. So far the tags have proven that the western monarchs stay in the west and overwinter on the Central California coast.
Message from Linda
It will not come as a surprise that Linda suggests for people to plant milkweed–at home, parks, schools, along waterways, or any place in need of conservation. Most importantly is to plant native plants especially those that bloom in early spring to late fall (a sustained bloom) to aid the monarch in nectar gathering to fuel a long flight.
Update: Recovered Monarchs
As of November 7, Monarch Butterflies in the Pacific Northwest reported twelve long-distance tag recoveries and 58% (7) of them have been offspring from Ovaltine, the female that started the Brookings, Oregon monarch population explosion!
The latest Ovaltine grandchild to have found her way to Santa Cruz, California is Miranda. Miranda started life as an egg laid in late August in Dennis Triglia’s milkweed patch in Brookings, Oregon. He reared Miranda who was tagged and released by Holly Beyer on September 21. This message came from the Facebook page Monarch Butterflies of the Pacific Northwest:
We don’t know the route Miranda took to get to the Natural Bridges overwintering colony but she may have caught up with ‘Waldemar’ who was released by Dennis in Brookings on September 7 and was also found at Natural Bridges on October 6! So at least two named Monarchs from Brookings are now residing at Natural Bridges! Linda Milom spotted Miranda (G1946) at Natural Bridges on November 3 and took the photo below. Thank you to Dennis and Linda for enabling us to follow Miranda.”
As I finish up this series and reflect on the stories that brought it to life, I’m brimming with gratitude for all the people who made it possible for the Brookings eggsplosion monarch butterflies to exist and thrive. While more than forty people may have been involved in rearing and tagging, as you can see from the stories, there were countless other people working behind the scenes. Every single person deserves a standing ovation (pun intended) because it took the entire network to pull it off.
It truly took a village.
I also want to full-heartedly thank all the individuals mentioned in these four posts who patiently waded through my barrage of questions and provided exquisite detail that allowed for the nuances of this story to unfold.
Now as the work winds down (not exactly the case for folks in Brookings who are still rearing), most of us get to sit back for a moment and reflect on the magnitude of this summer’s events while patiently waiting for our (tag) numbers to come up.
Because who doesn’t want to know if their foster babies made it safely to a California overwintering site? We’re California dreamin’ that all of the monarchs who were so tenderly cared for survive the journey, find the perfect mate on Valentine’s day, fly inland and locate plentiful healthy milkweed to lay first-generation eggs, discover abundant forage to feed and fuel a migration back north, are greeted with more milkweed along the way for 2ndand 3rd generation broods, and once again repopulate our Pacific Northwest gardens yearning to sustain and be adorned by brilliant orange and black wings.