Monday, August 26, 2013

A Visit With Monarch Butterfly Specialist Chip Taylor

Chip Taylor Monarch Butterfly ExpertThe Monarch butterfly Eastern migration will survive the current crisis and make a come-back, although probably never again to the population levels seen in the 1990s, predicted noted Monarch scientist Dr. Orley “Chip” Taylor in a lecture at The Wild Center Friday night.

Adirondack residents still turning over milkweed leaves this season in search of as glimpse of a Monarch caterpillar or larvae will probably be disappointed, Dr. Taylor said, because the Monarchs arrived at this northern latitude too late and in too few numbers to produce a generation here this year.

Dr. Taylor’s lecture to an audience of nearly 100 Friday night at The Wild Center in a visit sponsored by as part of its butterfly and milkweed conservation initiative this year. Taylor is a University of Kansas professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and founder of Monarch Watch.

The most important thing that Americans can do to help the marvel of the Eastern Monarch migration endure is to plant Monarch Waystions —  butterfly gardens which contain milkweeds, the only plant on which Monarchs reproduce, and flowers to provide nectar, their food source.   These gardens are particularly crucial in Texas, where Monarchs return after wintering in Mexico, but important by the thousands along the entire migratory routes.

In a late-night chat over strawberry-rhubarb pie after the lecture, Dr. Taylor shared snippets of his life as an insect ecologist, including years studying the fierce African bee.

It was easy to picture a young Harrison Ford playing Chip.  He has not led the quaint, academic life of the stereotypical entomologist.  In his early career, he traced the African bee, often referred to as “killer bees,” from Brazil (where they had been introduced) back to their home in South Africa.  He then tracked them as they made their way north through South America, Central America, into Texas and beyond.  The killer bees are now just south of the Kansas border, nearing Lawrence where he is a professor at the University of Kansas.

He acted as a consultant for a film crew who wanted footage of the killer bees, which had by then crossed the Panama Canal.

Chip located an apiary in an isolated location.  The film crew wanted video of the bees pissed-off.  Chip says it does not take much to rile them up, which he did.  The cameraman squatted and aimed his camera just inches from the nest exit, where the bees came at his lens like pellets from a gun.  He was wearing protective gear, including a veil, but had forgotten to put Band-Aids on his ears.  The bees stuck him three times on the ear.  The cameraman stood up, then dropped like a felled tree.  Crew members standing nearby caught him as he fell.  Chip yelled, “Get the camera.”

Chip instructed the film crew to get the cameraman into a van, clear him of bees and revive him.  Chip stayed behind with the aroused bees to guard the estimated $100,000 worth of equipment strewn on the ground.  He turned his head and the wind caught his veil.  The bees shot venom directly into one of his eyes. A half hour later the van returned with the cameraman, who had survived the attack.  Another boring day in the life of an insect scientist.

To the relief of others finishing off the pie, Chip said the winter temperatures are too cold in the Adirondacks for killer bees to survive here.


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Marsha Stanley is a former reporter for the Rochester Times Union, where she covered government and did investigative reporting. She freelanced for many years for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, writing feature stories for the Sunday magazine. She holds a bachelor of journalism from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

Marsha is a founding member and on the board of

6 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    Cultured cell lines from Monarch butterflies are very important for studying circadian rhythms. The butterfly appears to have a circadian clock gene expressed in its brain that is very similar to the circadian clock genes found in vertebrates (like you and me). The circadian clock is very important in aiding in their navigation from here to there. Read more about their “internal clock” helping lead them to Mexico here (this is not a self plug I have nothing to do with this work):

  2. Charlie says:

    I recall reading within the past few years that the forest where the monarchs migrate to in Mexico in the winter were being chopped down at an alarming rate.Is there any truth to this? What has happened with that?If this is true then there’s no hope for the monarch butterfly which is such a beautiful critter.

  3. Charlie says:

    Since I did not get an answer I did a quick search online and found the below.It’s more than logging that the monarchs have to worry about.If we were futuristic we would be preparing for any situation that might threaten a species,we would be more wary of some of the actions we take or policies we enact.Over and over again we do not learn from our past mistakes.There is no hope for us,never mind the species that are losing more and more ground.

    After decades of battling illegal logging in the monarch sanctuary, biologists and park workers have been forced to selectively cut down infected trees in an attempt to stop the beetles from spreading.

    Bark beetles have existed for some time in the monarch reserve, usually attacking only a handful of trees at any one time. But drought earlier this year weakened as many as 9,000 oyamel firs, allowing the beetles to burrow in and tap the trees’ nutrients.

    Pesticides would be the most effective way to eradicate the beetles, according to biologists, but they would also kill the butterflies if the winged insects arrived soon after the insecticides were applied.

    So park officials are fighting the infestation on a tree-by-tree basis. Bark is removed from the felled trees and buried. The remaining wood is being taken away to prevent the beetles from spreading.

    The eradication efforts must stop once the butterflies arrive in November.

    The forest canopy is critical to sheltering the monarchs from freezing rain and cold high-altitude nights during their five-month winter stay.

  4. Mike says:

    Tough year for butterflys. I think I’ve seen maybe five Monarchs this summer- usually 100+. Our butterfly bush usually has 3 or four at a time- this year a grand total of three. Remember the huge Red Admiral migration last year? I’ve not seen ONE this year. Very few of any butterflys. I’ve had a few three mile runs in the country without seeing one butterfly. Unprecedented in my lifetime.

  5. Charlie says:

    When I see butterflies a deep sense of wonder comes over me.They are so beautiful and to think how harmless they are,and beneficial.Without them what kind of world will this be? Not the kind of world I wish to see.

  6. Gail Petri says:

    Here in the Rochester, NY area things are much the same. We do have a butterfly garden including several types of milkweed, but so few butterflies.I have been to Mexico to see the overwintering monarchs – it is a magical sight. In the winter in Florida we plant milkweed and raise monarchs from eggs or tiny caterpillars. It is an amazing process and we hope that some of the ones we release at the end of the season will head partway north. Last year we raised and released over 80. The year before we raised and released over 300. But you can’t do it without the monarchs and eggs. So sad. You can learn more about the oyamel situation here:

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