On his way to becoming an internationally recognized scientist for his work on Monarch butterflies and the evolution of warning coloration in nature, Professor Lincoln Brower first tickled the funny bone of the scientific community with his elegant research and photos of “barfing blue jays” and proved that milkweed toxin protects Monarchs.
As a young scientist at Amherst College in the 1960s, Dr. Brower proved that the toxin that Monarchs ingest from feeding on milkweed plants as caterpillars is so potent at sickening birds that a blue jay once exposed to them in a careful lab experiment, and then given other foods for a month, would vomit at the sight of a Monarch. Dr. Brower’s photos of the unlucky jays, published in the Scientific American in February 1969, still circulate on the internet.
Adirondack residents will have the chance to hear Dr. Brower discuss that famous experiment and his subsequent decades of research on Monarch biology as well as the current threats to their survival in a lecture at The Wild Center, 7:30. p.m. Thursday, June 26.
AdkAction.org is sponsoring Dr. Brower’s visit as it did last summer’s appearance and lecture by another noted Monarch scientist, Dr. Orley R. “ Chip” Taylor, as part of the non-profit’s Monarch conservation initiative. The year-long run of the big-screen movie “Flight of the Butterflies” at The Wild Center ends June 30. AdkAction.org provided the funds to bring the film to the Adirondacks, where it has attracted thousands of viewers.
Dr. Brower and other scientists are alarmed at the 20-year decline in Monarch numbers at their high-altitude sanctuaries in Mexico and by the precipitous drop in numbers there in 2013 and 2014. They warn that what happens this season may be crucial to the continuation of the Monarch migration in the Eastern United States.
As it did last year, AdkAction.org has again written to every highway superintendent in the Adirondacks asking them to delay roadside mowing from July 1 to the end of September to spare milkweed plants, which thrive along highways. Milkweed is the only plant on which Monarchs reproduce. Late-season Adirondack Monarchs lay eggs and caterpillars hatch on these plants to become part of the final annual Monarch generation, which lives long enough to fly 2,500 miles to Mexico for the winter, and then return to the U.S. next spring.
Dr. Brower, who appears frequently on television and radio programs explaining the Monarch story, is a professor at Sweet Briar College in Virginia. Best-selling author Barbara Kingsolver sought out Dr. Brower for advice in writing her recent novel Flight Behavior. Former President Jimmy Carter turned to Dr. Brower as his guide last winter when he and Rosalynn Carter visited a Monarch sanctuary in Mexico.
Dr. Brower and AdkAction.org worked behind the scenes to convince First Lady Michelle Obama to install a butterfly and pollinator garden at The While House this year. The chance of sending a random letter to Mrs. Obama to get her support seemed daunting, especially since AdkAction.org brochures about Monarchs contained milkweed seeds and were likely to be intercepted by security. AdkAction.org founding member Marsha Stanley had a friend who is close to the Carters. That friend proved the key link. That friend asked Rosalynn Carter to forward a packet of letters from Dr. Brower and AdkAction.org and other materials to Mrs. Obama. The mailing included a signed copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s book as well as a beautiful coffee table book The Amazing Monarch for the First Family. Mrs. Carter, who remembered Dr. Brower from their visit in Mexico, included a personal appeal of her own as well. Mrs. Carter heard from Mrs. Obama this spring that the first ever butterfly and pollinator garden would be added at the sixth annual White House Garden planting in April, 2014.
Dr. Brower, an entertaining and much-sought public speaker, will accompany his talk at The Wild Center with many color photographs from his decades of visits to the Monarch sanctuaries and describe his research and the conservations issues that threaten the age-old migration. His talk is open to the public and will be streamed live over the internet at www.wildcenter.org/live.
Dr. Brower received his B.A. in biology from Princeton University in 1953. He earned a Ph.D. in zoology in 1957 from Yale University. He was a Fulbright scholar in the genetics laboratory at Oxford University from 1957 to 1958. He is an emeritus professor of the University of Florida and currently a research professor of biology at Sweet Briar College.