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Monarchs winter in Mexico

January 14, 2012
By GARRY BRANDENBURG , Times-Republican

MONARCH BUTTERFLIES may be the last thing on our minds as we experience more 'normal' January weather outside this weekend. With cold weather settling in, our normal, it is kind of interesting to note that the insect world just goes about its business of survival out of sight and out of mind. But Mom Nature's long list of survival strategies is amazing. For the butterflies now resting in the high elevation (10,000 feet high) mountainside fir tree forests of central Mexico, winter for them is the means to an end, a process absolutely necessary for the survival of the new generations of Monarchs we will see next spring.

Super Generation is the label scientists attach to the final crop of young monarchs. These butterflies look like all of its preceding generations of last spring and summer. The difference is that the spring and summer generations live for only a few weeks. The last generation of the summer has the ability to halt the aging process and in so doing, live long enough to make the very long trip to Mexico, live 8 months, and begin the journey north. On their way north, the new generation of monarchs repeats the process while the long lived monarchs have done their duty and die.

Each fall, monarch butterflies feed solely on nectar, for which any plant with flowers may provide. They aren't too picky about what they eat, just eat and eat often. Monarchs will actually gain weight during the journey to Mexico. All over the USA and Canada, Monarchs begin the fall migration southward on ancient pre-programmed pathways that keep narrowing and concentrating in numbers as they close in the final destination. If one was to be in the right place at the right times, monarchs in flight nearing their winter homes can and do resemble large orange glittering clouds in the sky.

Article Photos

This is a super Monarch. During the course of spring and summer, four generations of relatively short lived Monarchs grace our landscape. By late August, the final generations have graced our gardens, woodlots and prairies. These are the ones that must make the super migration of thousands of miles to the mountains of central Mexico. They must live an additional eight months, the equivalent of a human living 600 years. 

Diane Hall, naturalist with the Marshall County Conservation Board, has seen the Monarchs in their winter homes. She and several other winter weary Iowans made the journey several years ago. It was a great vacation trip, a great way for naturalists to experience part of the life cycle of the butterfly we don't normally see. It was a culmination of sorts to years of Monarch butterfly tagging locally. Catch the late summer generation of butterflies, let them reproduce, then tag the emerging Super Generation adult, and let it go. Several of those Marshall County, Iowa monarchs have been found in Mexico where other scientists read the tag numbers and send a report back home of the insect's successful journey.


It's the 90th ANNIVERSARY of the IZAAK WALTON LEAGUE in 2012. In fact, on this date in 1922, fifty-four visionary sportsmen met in Chicago, IL to discuss issues of common concern: namely the deterioration of America's top fishing streams. At that time, uncontrolled industrial discharges, raw sewage and soil erosion threatened many of America's waterways. At the same time critical wildlife habitat was being lost. Knowing that action was needed, not just talk, the group formed an organization to protect waterways and protect the country's woods and wildlife.

Fast forward. Today there are 39,000 'Ikes" members nationally that have a voice in Washington DC. They are a respected organization for its size due primarily to a decades long history of sound advice for legislators to consider. They don't always win every battle. However a consistent message for due diligence for clean air, soil and water benefits everybody.

In Marshall County, the Izaak Walton League is active. They have monthly meetings, take care of a nice piece of land south of Marshalltown where hikers, fishers, and target shooters can enjoy their sports. The club house is open spring through fall via reservations for family or organizational groups. Conservation education is available here through cooperative programs with the Marshall County Conservation Board. So, this scribe says Happy Birthday on the 90th Anniversary of this fine conservation organization. Consider joining the Ikes to add your support for long term conservation goals.


DEER numbers are trending downward. Here are some statistics from the record. The reported take of white-tailed deer in Iowa from all seasons as of Dec. 19 shows a 29 percent decrease from the high year of 2006. This reflects the management strategy of DNR biologists to strive for and attain management goals for deer. The actual numbers read as follows:

2006 ... 96,902, 2007... 83,488, 2008 ... 83,068, 2009 ... 77,887, 2010 ... 73,744 and 2011... 68,852. When these trend lines are compiled with actual numbers of deer taken by the end of January, plus late winter aerial counts and next springs DNR spring survey, a better picture of where the overall deer herd is at will emerge. All of these factors will guide wildlife biologists to recommend license quotas up or down across the state.They do know what they are doing. Hopefully the legislature will agree with the professional staff. Stay tuned.

Marshall Countians as of Jan. 12 have reported 833 deer made up of 408 doe deer, 329 bucks, 91 button bucks and 5 shed antlered deer. Statewide numbers show a total of 113,017 deer removed from the population. Don't worry. The remaining deer are fully capable of replacing themselves. Careful management strives to keep numbers somewhat stable from year to year. Scientific wildlife management works.


Many wildlife hunting seasons are coming to a close or did close on Jan.10. However, these remain in force. Rabbit season continues to Feb. 28. Furbearer seasons, squirrel, quail, partridge and grouse remain open until Jan. 31. Rabbit season runs through February 28th. Crow season is in effect from Jan. 14 to March 31. Beaver trapping season closes April 15. Light geese can be taken via the special conservation order from Jan. 14 to April 15. This season is an attempt to control snow goose overpopulations that are severely degrading their tundra habitats in Canada.


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.



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