wings fill the sky as NOVA charts one of nature's most remarkable phenomena:
the epic migration of monarch butterflies
across North America. To capture a butterfly's point of view, NOVA’s
filmmakers used a helicopter, ultralight, and hot-air balloon for aerial
views along the transcontinental route. This wondrous annual migration,
which scientists are just beginning to fathom, is an endangered
phenomenon that could dwindle to insignificance if the giant firs that
the butterflies cling to during the winter disappear.
Monarch butterflies are few and far between in Texas this
Posted Wednesday, Nov. 02, 2011 Updated Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011
By Chris Vaughn Fort Worth firstname.lastname@example.org
It is one of
the most amazing migrations in all of the world, not least because the
animal making the 3,000-mile journey weighs half a gram
and North Texans often see the ancient journey from their back yards
But, with only
isolated sightings, the last few weeks proved disappointing for monarch
butterfly watchers in virtually all of Texas. Normally
the butterflies' migration from the Red River to the Rio Grande Valley
is hailed as one of autumn's great marvels.
seen probably four monarchs in the last three weeks," lamented
Michael Warriner, an invertebrate biologist with the Texas Parks &
Wildlife Department in Austin.
reason lies in the merciless drought, which dramatically reduced the
butterflies' main food source as they moved south for the winter.
The shortage of nectar from blooming plants, plus thousands of acres
scorched by wildfires, likely meant that the migratory pattern was dispersed
over a much greater area as the butterflies sought food. Based on informal
reporting by residents, the overall count appears to be below average.
was widespread, all the way from the I-35 corridor to the Davis Mountains,"
said Mike Quinn, an entomologist who is coordinator
of Texas Monarch Watch, part of a monarch educational and research organization
based in Kansas. "They usually aren't that widely distributed."
butterfly, like Pacific salmon and the gray whale, makes a jaw-dropping
annual migration that must be mysteriously plugged into
its genetic makeup, made all the more remarkable because no single monarch
makes the entire round-trip journey. Their offspring and their
offspring's offspring know what to do and where to go on their own.
has an outsize reputation among nature lovers in the Plains states.
for example, has an annual festival -- the Butterfly Flutterby -- to
celebrate the migration.
have this mystique," Warriner said. "They're easily identifiable,
they're pretty, they don't sting, they're interesting and there's that
migration. Popular interest has just built up."
Most of the
insects begin in the upper Midwest and Great Lakes region in August
and September, flying on thermals and fronts across North America to
spend the winter in a compact mountainous area of central Mexico's Michoacan
state. They usually move through Texas during
October, fattening up along the way on the nectar of flowers, trees
and virtually anything else that blooms.
a cross-continental marathon, they are actually gaining weight, which
is counterintuitive," Quinn said. "By the time they reach
over-winter grounds in Mexico, they are supposed to have their highest
fat content, which they essentially live off of during the winter."
But Quinn said he
drove through the Hill Country last month and was disappointed in how
many dead plants and how few butterflies he saw.
really appears to have had profound effects on the flora," he said.
"The juniper is dying in wide patches, and that's one of the last
trees I would have thought would be impacted. Walking along riverbeds,
there were almost no nectar sources. That suggests the monarchs
would be pretty stressed coming through Texas."
and professors will get a better count of the monarchs once they arrive
in their winter grounds in Mexico in a few weeks. That will
also allow researchers to gauge their weight, which will in part determine
how they fare in the cold.
harsh winters have led to significant die-offs within the colony, but
they have typically happened in years when the population was
robust. This winter, researchers are hoping for mild temperatures so
that a major loss doesn't coincide with a below-average count.
trend over the last 15 years is downward," Quinn said. "Every
year, there are, on average, fewer in Mexico. We're getting closer
to that point when we'll have a die-off in a low-numbers year, which
would really be an unfortunate situation. We'll know more in the spring
when we see them coming back."
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You Can… is a book about possibility. At its best, it seeks to
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Program Benefits North Carolina
a former MSEN Pre-College student, has conducted a cost-benefit analysis
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Sherick Hughes, a former Pre-College student at Elizabeth City State
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This study has been published in the February-March 2002 edition of
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If you would like to receive more information about this study, please
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of partnerships and collaborations with NC-MSEN Pre-College Program,
as well as other professional and educational associations:
- principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences
and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the
government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities
Mathematical Association of America
- the world's largest organization devoted to the interests of collegiate
mathematics, with a major emphasis on the teaching of mathematics at
the collegiate level
- a K-12 mathematics and science learning outreach program of NC State
University which provides teacher training and school support programs
and student science activities for schools across the state
- funds programs for the advancement of education, science, and health
Smith Reynolds Foundation
- serves the needs of the people of North Carolina by granting funds
to assist in pre-college education, community economic development,
environmental issues, minority issues, and women's issues
- grantmaking corporation founded by Andrew Carnegie that promotes the
advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding
Association for the Advancement of Science
- professional association for scientists, full-time students, postdoctoral
fellows and residents that supports science education, public understanding
of science and scientific freedom and responsibility
- an independent U.S. government agency responsible for promoting science
and engineering through funding research and education projects
Sciences Curriculum Study
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and middle-school levels, in addition to biology programs for high school
and undergraduate college students