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Monarch butterfly swarms

Stranded far north because of the unusually warm weather and strong winds that have kept them from migrating south
Photo: Monarch butterflies - Photo: Jorge Alvarado/EL UNIVERSAL
28/10/2017
16:01
Washington
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Monarch butterflies, delicate symbols of spring and summer, should be in Texas by now, winging their way to Mexico for the winter, yet Darlene Burgess, who lives in Canada, keeps seeing colorful clusters of monarch butterflies.

"As nice as this is to see, I really wish I wouldn't see it because they're running out of time," said Burgess, who does evening monarch counts at Point Pelee National Park in Canada. "It's really not good for them."

It's not just about Canada. Swarms have been seen elsewhere, near Cape May, in New Jersey, at suitable levels for late September and early October.

Scientists say that tens of thousands of monarch butterflies are likely to be stranded far north of where they would normally be this time of the year because of the unusually warm weather and strong winds that have kept them from migrating south, said biologist Elizabeth Howard, Director of Journey North, a nonprofit organization that works to track wildlife migrations.

Many of these butterflies would not be alive if not for the warm weather. They are thought to be a sort of bonus generation that was able to develop and emerge late in the season because it's been so unusually warm.

Monarchs typically arrive in Mexico around November 1. The "stragglers” in Ontario and elsewhere are "definitely new territory for us," said University of Kansas biology professor Chip Taylor, Director of Monarch Watch.

Some butterflies were born late, some didn’t move south because temperatures were warm, and some couldn’t move south because winds were coming from the south for weeks and they couldn’t fly through them.

Now they may be stuck because temperatures are starting to fall. Howard said their muscles don't work when temperatures dip into the 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). And if they don't freeze, they are likely to starve to death because much of the plants they need to feed their long voyage south are already gone for the season, biologists said.

"What's really important is they've got to get out of town," Howard said.

sg

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