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December 04, 2023

40 Minutes

Guests: Ray Moranz

Tags: butterflies, community science, endangered species, pollinators, staff guests,

We've recently talked about western monarch populations and community science. Today, we are going to talk about monarchs east of the Rockies. From their overwintering sites to their multi-generational migration, and the stops along the way, we will take a deeper look at the journey of the monarch.

Guest Information

Dr. Ray Moranz is a pollinator conservation specialist at the Xerces Society and a partner biologist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. His areas of expertise include pollinators on rangelands, prairie management through controlled burns, and eastern monarch conservation. Based in Oklahoma, he assists in the planning and implementation of monarch butterfly conservation efforts in the south central United States.

Show Notes & Links

In this episode, we talk about monarchs east of the Rockies from their migration and multi-generations to the resources they need along the way. We take a deeper dive into monarch physiology and some fun facts.

Transcript

Matthew: Welcome to bug banter with the Xerces society where we explore the world of invertebrates and how to help these extraordinary animals. If you want to support our work go to Xerces.org/donate.

Rachel: Hi, I'm Rachel in Missoula, Montana.

Matthew: And I'm Matthew in Portland, Oregon.

Rachel: Last month we met with Isis Howard to talk about western monarch populations and community science. Today, we are going to talk about monarchs east of the Rockies. From their overwintering sites to their multi-generational migration, and the stops along the way, we will take a deeper look at the journey of the monarch.

Rachel: To lead us on this discussion is Dr. Ray Moranz, Xerces' Grazing Lands Pollinator Ecologist, Partner Biologist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in the Central National Technology Support Center. One focus of his work is to assist in the planning and implementation of monarch butterfly conservation efforts in the south central U.S. Ray has also studied the effects of fire and grazing on prairie plants and butterfly communities.

Rachel: Ray, we're so excited to have you here today. Thank you for joining us. Welcome.

Ray: My great pleasure to be here. Guys, it's a super fun topic and I look forward to, chatting about monarchs.

Matthew: I mean, let's start with the adults, right? Where do monarchs east of the rockets spend the winter?

Ray: Well, the overwhelming majority of monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains in August, September, start heading south to Central Mexico. Specifically, to the state of Michoacán, just west of Mexico City. And I've had the great fortune to be able to go there once and it was spectacular. And I got to see many, many, tens of millions of monarchs because I went to the single best site for monarchs in the world and, it was amazing.

Rachel: So those areas that monarchs go to, even in California, aren't actually that warm. My question is why don't they go further south where there are warmer temperatures?

Ray: Yeah, that's a great question. It seems that maybe a few do go, a tiny handful go to some warmer places. But overall, they're seeking out places on the California coast. And our eastern monarchs are seeking places high up in the mountains of Mexico that are very consistently cool. 

Ray: They don't go if it's too warm for them. Basically, they'll die of old age. They'll be too active. Their physiology will be running too high, and they'll die quickly. They are trying to survive the whole winter in basically a steady state. And by keeping cool, that keeps them that way. On the other hand, if they stayed up north in Minnesota where it's super cold, they would just die. So, they've got to get somewhere warmer. But ideally somewhere cool, if it gets too hot that helps turn on their reproductive hormones. And when the reproductive hormones turn on, that causes them to deteriorate more quickly.

Matthew: Sounds like the Goldilocks zone between not being too cold where they'll die and not being too warm where they'll live too quickly.

Ray: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Matthew: So, you mentioned the mountains in Mexico. Do all the monarchs east of the Rockies end up migrating down there?

Ray: The overwhelming majority do. The 99% head down to Michoacán Mexico. But it has been known for years by people who live on the Gulf Coast, Houston, New Orleans, some places on the Florida coast. They'll find some monarchs in the middle of winter. Miami for sure.

Ray: It's easy to find. I've seen monarchs in Miami, Florida, in the middle of winter. That's been known for a long time. A fascinating study got published just this year by folks from South Carolina. Including, I think, Michael Kendrick is the first author and Billy McCord who was the fellow who did the field work for decades.

Ray: And he showed that some monarchs, again, the tiny handful compared to the ones that go to Mexico, a tiny handful, go to the South Carolina Coast each winter and spend the winter on the beach. You know Billy's lived in that area his whole life he says the temperature there is pretty similar to in winter, it's not very hot. It doesn't get deep freezes. So, that could be a terrific point.

Ray: Finally, I have a dear old friend, Dr. Christina Docks, originating from the nation of Columbia who discovered about 20 years ago that some monarchs migrate to Cuba, and spend the winter in Cuba. She actually paid the price for doing that research. She was put in jail by Cuban authorities multiple times. They thought she was an American spy. Why else would somebody be walking around with a butterfly net?

Ray: But fascinating research, and now there's some latest findings from Christina and her colleagues in Latin America that some monarchs are going seemingly, to Cozumel, and then on to Guatemala. Again, tiny numbers within compared to Mexico. but it's something we need to look at more closely.

Mathew: It's amazing. As you say, at the beginning, there's so much we know and a lot we don't know so it's great that there are people actually helping to figure out these answers.

Rachel: That's so interesting. You wonder why some go to Mexico and some go to other spots, which we're going to get into a little bit later in terms of their behavior and trying to figure out why they go where they do and when they choose to go.

Rachel: But, talking about these overwintering adult monarchs, how long do these particular individuals live? Do these live, you know, they're over wintering for months. Do they live longer than other monarchs further down in the migration chain?

Ray: Absolutely. Let's start with a summer monarch in comparison. A summertime monarch that you would find in New York State or Minnesota in July, lives, if it's lucky, lives for about 4 weeks. Of course, it could get eaten by a bird or get hit by a car or something sad like that.

Ray: They die of old age after a few weeks. Those are the monarchs during the breeding season. Remember earlier I said those reproductive hormones help to cause the butterfly to die of old age basically? But, this generation that goes down to Mexico and spends the whole winter in Mexico can live for as long as 8, maybe even 9 months. So that would make them among the most long-lived butterflies in the world.

Ray: Most butterflies live for only a few weeks. Their beauty is ephemeral, but those overwintering monarchs, those monarchs that go to Mexico for the winter, live for a very long time. So, think of a monarch that comes out of its chrysalis in Minneapolis in early August. It migrates down to Mexico. It might get there around November 1st, November 2nd. It spends the whole winter there and then starts migrating up in the spring.

Ray: It might live all the way until April or May. August first until early May. Can I do the math? Gosh, a little over 8 months. So, very amazing creatures to be able to live that long. Yeah, and some of that is hormones. Management within the body and some of it is just finding the right overwintering spot.

Ray: Absolutely and those overwintering spots. Now, there are predators down there, so some of them do get eaten, but the ones that don't get eaten, you know, during the very cold cool periods they're quite inactive. On warm days a lot of them do fly but they don't have a lot to do down there. They just hunker down on the cool days and take it easy, survive the winter.

Matthew: So, the monarchs overwintering in Mexico in the mountains, when they're ready to migrate, how far do they travel before they start breeding and reproducing again?

Ray: That's been pretty well studied, at least on the American side of the Rio Grande. As they head up from central Mexico, we usually think of them leaving Central Mexico primarily in early March to mid-March. I don't think there are many milkweeds right near the overwintering colonies, which are high elevation, but as they come down to lower elevations of Mexico, they'll find some milkweeds and they'll lay some eggs on milkweeds in Mexico pretty soon after they depart.

Ray: But I believe that the great majority of them lay most of their eggs in Texas. And then secondarily in Oklahoma. Now some scoot along the Gulf Coast and make it to Louisiana and Mississippi and you into Arkansas, tiny handful in a normal year make it to southern Kansas laying eggs. One here, one there as they go north and those females are, of course, laying the eggs and trying to spread out their eggs as best they can. 

Ray: So, Texas is the most important state for Eastern monarchs, both in the springtime for laying the eggs that become the first generation, and then in the fall, as they migrate to Mexico.

Rachel: Well, that's very cool and I'm a little jealous because you're in Oklahoma so you probably get to experience some of these overwintering adults.

Ray: Absolutely. And it was this spring. I see them every spring, not huge numbers, and I see some and they lay eggs on the milkweeds, for them, which is awesome. I searched the milkweeds almost every day and this year I was finding some in May that were fantastically worn out. That told me when they're heavily, heavily worn out and their color has faded so that they're a very almost a pale brown instead of a bright orange. That's when you know that you've got a very old butterfly. This is a butterfly, almost certainly, that spent the winter in Mexico, flew back, and has lived about 8 months. As opposed to a new generation of monarchs which will look so resplendent, so colorful.

Matthew: Wow, what a journey for a tiny insect to fly that far. I just can't even imagine. Yeah, that's pretty wild. 

Rachel: So you've talked about monarchs laying eggs. An adult monarch can lay up to 400 eggs. Out of those 400 how many of those actually make it to adulthood?

Ray: Fantastic research out of the lab of Dr. Karen Oberhauser, who I think was at the University of Minnesota at the time. Their research showed that about 1% of the eggs, so 4 out of the 400 eggs laid by a female if she was able to lay off 400, only about 4 of those would become adults. So, it's a very dangerous world out there for monarchs just as it is for most invertebrates. There are plenty of predators, parasites, parasitoids for them to worry about.

Matthew: Now, 4 out of 400. That's a high loss. And I know that I mean part of the bigger back story to this is that monarchs are declining. There's not as many monarchs as there used to be. I mean you mentioned that you went down and saw tens of millions of them but there used to be hundreds of millions. Maybe a billion in the eastern states. And so, I totally get when we've got this much decline that, say, it makes sense that people would want to bring the eggs inside, breed them, to try and increase the number of adults that make it through.

Matthew: Is this the kind of backyard kitchen countertop rearing whatever you want to call it- is that a viable way to help monarch populations do you think? I mean does it if you're boosting the number from you know 4 out of 400 to 40 or 200. Does that really help? Is it a good thing?

Ray: We don't encourage that, for, multiple reasons. Yeah, we don't think it is a viable strategy. We hope people focus more on producing habitat. Now, with that said, we know that rearing monarchs is fun. I have done it, a number of times over my life and I certainly did it when I had little kids in the house and taught them about it. It's fun, it's educational. So, you know, raising 4 or 5 monarch caterpillars to adulthood can be a wonderful experience. 

Ray: But we do have concerns about raising mass numbers 10 or more. The biggest concern that I have is disease, that if you raise them together in a container, you greatly increase the likelihood of these organisms spreading a disease or maybe even a new disease agent, a new pathogen evolving similar to, you know, all of a sudden, COVID. You know, COVID showed up a few years ago. So that's a big concern.

Ray: Another concern in raising a whole lot of monarchs, you release them all in one place. Will there be enough resources out in your neighborhood to support them. Now, hopefully they'll get it and if they're not, hopefully they'll get a move on and search for more. But there is a concern about that and then also multiple studies have shown problems with monarchs with their ability to migrate after they've been reared.

Ray: So certainly if you rear them, please don't do it inside. Don't do it in a dark room. Ideally, if you rear any monarchs, and again we're encouraging a small number, at the most. Try to do it in some cage outdoors where they're getting conditions as natural as can be. Natural lighting, natural temperatures, etc, so that they'll be more attuned to the natural cues that that tell them when to migrate.

Rachel: Thank you, Ray. I think that's a question we get a lot and I'm glad that you brought up the habitat issue and I think when people do it and they see that all of those caterpillars they brought inside become adults, it's hard to not feel like, oh, but I saved all these monarch adults, but unless you're following them down to Mexico, it's hard to know whether they’re actually able to navigate and there's so much we still don't know about them.

Rachel: Yeah, I think habitat is so important. I know we're going to talk about that a little bit more, but picking up where we left off in March and early April, these overwintering adults have migrated to Texas and Oklahoma raised backyard and laid lots and lots of eggs. How long does it take for those eggs to become adults?

Ray: On average, an egg, it takes about 30 days. Now, if you have a lot of cold weather it'll take longer than 30. If you have a lot of warm weather, you know, middle of summer, maybe 24 days. But basically think about a month. That’s a new generation could be produced every month. So, it's very fast, a very fast lifecycle. That's what enables monarchs to have multiple generations per year.

Matthew: So that first generation, as Rachel said, the one that bred in your backyard in Oklahoma. How far north do they, I mean, assuming from Oklahoma, they just keep going north rather than East towards the coast or anything. I know we started the conversation just talking about overwintering, but they're everywhere across the continent.

Ray: I was part of the Lincoln Brower Lab at the University of Florida. In the early 90’s he published a paper saying that monarchs moved up north via successive generations and I think at the time I think in Dr. Broward's papers in the early 90’s it implies that it took 2 or 3 generations, or maybe 4 to get all the way North. More recent information. touted by Dr. Chip Taylor from the University of Kansas is that yes, the monarchs come up from Mexico, the over wintering ones, those eggs become the first generation of monarchs born in the US. And then those first-generation monarchs, some of them go as far north as monarchs will go during the entire year.

Ray: So, let's say a first-generation female lays an egg at my home. She'll have adult offspring a month later on May first. They'll fly north; some of them will lay egg all the way. Some of them will maybe stop in Kansas or stop in Iowa, but some will keep going all the way to Canada. And, Manitoba and even Ontario and places in between.

Ray: That's what Chip Taylor maintains, if I'm correct. And, looking at the community science data online, you see that. You see first-generation monarchs showing up way up north. So after that, after that first generation, the following generations, generation two, generation three are more the same but multiplying, you know, breeding in other areas.

Ray: Some of them maybe go a little bit east, a little bit west. I don't think the Northeast is very well colonized until later in the summer. So, maybe that's the case where it takes second and third generations to make it to Long Island. I had a lot of folks in Long Island and Connecticut this year emailing me and saying, hey, where are the monarchs? But, in general, it's that first generation that really makes the big push up north.

Ray: I want to make it clear. That that first generation, they don't go back to Mexico. It's a ways down the road that monarchs go back to Mexico. 

Matthew: Just how long does it take to get for that first generation to reach Manitoba? Because they don't live for that long, so they must be flying pretty quickly.

Ray: They're moving. A few weeks they are pushed. At that time of year, we tend to have a lot of south winds. And those south winds will push them north pretty far and that helps them. But, yeah, they, move quite a long distance in 3, 4, maybe 5 weeks.

Rachel: That is impressive. So Ray, you mentioned, first generation, we've talked about quite a bit and then you said second, third, how many generations are produced East of the Rockies? Which of those generations then flies back, you know, following up and completing our journey here? Which generation flies south to Mexico in the fall and kind of completes that journey?

Ray: Great question. In general, we view Eastern monarchs as having 4 generations. Again, that first generation being born in Oklahoma, Texas around May first. It's the fourth generation that then flies down to Mexico starting in maybe early to mid-August. Fourth generation monarchs that are up in Manitoba, in Minnesota, North Dakota, Ontario, Maine, Massachusetts, they start getting the urge to fly south.

Ray: I do want to say that there are cases of monarchs, of there being fifth and possibly even 6 generations of monarchs and that happens more down south, where we have more time before the cold weather comes so we can fit in a couple more generations and that just got discovered fairly recently by Professor Christian Baum, formerly of Oklahoma State University now at the University of Kansas.

Matthew: Wow, so that last generation that becomes the overwintering adults that we started with are very hardy. It's really impressive that such a small insects can fly so far and survive for so long.

Ray: Absolutely. And think of all the work that it took to discover where they're going. I mean, try to think, 60, 70 years ago. People really didn't know where they were going. Maybe they were all going to Cuba. Maybe they're spending the winter in Louisiana or Florida. In the seventies, it was discovered by a Canadian scientist that yes, the overwhelming majority fly down to Mexico.

Rachel: So now that we understand this sort of multi generation migration and where they go and their timing, something I think about often is how do monarchs know where to go? That's one question and then my second question, is there any sense or research that shows how they know with timing?

Ray: Absolutely fantastic questions both. As far as the timing goes, decreasing day length seems to be a really important cue to trigger them to start departing the northern states. Again, early to mid-August days are getting shorter and I don't know how they sense it, but monarchs can sense that. And that triggers those fourth-generation monarchs to just go into reproductive diapause actually to basically turn their reproductive hormones off and start flying down south.

Ray: How do they navigate? Still not perfectly understood. There's some thought that they use magnetic fields. That's probably a very big factor. Again, pretty amazing to think of this butterfly with very tiny brain being able to use magnetic fields to help it navigate. I learned only very recently that the great majority of them fly, enter Mexico through the same mountain pass. So that amazes me and I don't understand that.

Ray: Somehow, they're guided to that same mountain pass because the Texas Mexico border is very long. And yet the great majority are headed to, I think it's called Eagle Pass. And they're headed for that maybe once they get through that pass that has them on the proper side of the ridges and if they as long as they follow those ridges mountain ridges down through Mexico, they'll make it to I don't fully understand that part.

Matthew: We really have no sense of how a monarch would know it's that mountain pass, right?

Ray: That's it. That's right. You know, you've come from 2,000 miles away and you've flown across every and then it's like, oh I better turn right a little bit here. I got to get the right path. And they've never done it before. It was their great, great, great, great grandmother and great great great-grandfather that that last flew that journey. So it is more amazing that they're able to do this.

Matthew: It’s just mind-blowing really, isn't it?

Rachel: Yeah, I was going to say it would make sense, you know, with, some seabirds and sea turtles and like salmon, they go back to the same place that they were born and that's where they lay their eggs and it's crazy to think that, these monarchs have never been down in Mexico and yet somehow, they know how to get there. I mean, it's just really amazing. My mind is blown.

Matthew: I'd say even with some of the sea creatures, how do they know where to find that river they came from? When you've been out there in the ocean anyway, that's a completely different conversation.

Matthew: Yeah, the migration, along the way, the monarchs need to support themselves. Right? I know that Milkweeds really associated with monarchs for good reason because it's the plant that the caterpillars eat. Why is it that the caterpillars feed on such a limited range of plants?

Ray: Oh, excellent question. Monarchs have evolved so that their caterpillars specialize on milkweeds. And there are many, many species of them, by the way, which is good for Monarchs.

Ray: Milkweeds tend to be poisonous. I actually studied milkweed chemistry for my master's degree and found that some of the milkweeds of northern Florida had no poisons whatsoever. And others were very low in poison. Whereas some other species I discovered were the most toxic milkweeds east of the Rocky Mountains. 

Ray: So, the key reason why mentioning these poisons is most insects cannot eat these toxic milkweeds. Monarchs evolve the ability to do so. They specialize. And that creates this source of food that is somewhat unique. There are some other insect species that have evolved just like monarchs have to be able to use toxic milkweeds as caterpillars. But that's why they need milkweeds. They've, head in that direction and they're sticking to it. And I find it amazing that they can even find them. And I've watched many females find milkweeds out in the field and sometimes the milkweed plants are an inch tall in a prairie full of grasses that are 4 feet tall. And the monarch female is still able to find these tiny little milkweed plants. I think they use a little bit of visual cues, but primarily. They use their sense of smell.

Matthew: I'm still processing caterpillars. Why would you select to eat the most toxic? I mean, there must be some benefit, surely.

Ray: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, in addition to having this resource that you can use and most other insects can't. The caterpillars sequester the cardiac glycosides within their tissues. Cardiac glycosides are the specific class of toxic chemicals in the milk that leads the caterpillars to sequester them in the tissues. They help defend the caterpillar. 

Ray: Caterpillar metamorphose into a pupa or chrysalis and it still has those poisons and then the adult monarch that results still has those toxins and it was Dr. Brower, the gentleman I mentioned earlier at the University of Florida years ago who discovered that birds don't like to eat toxic monarchs and I got to see firsthand, the famous barfing blue jay. I got to see barking blue jays. It was really cool. 

Matthew: I think that has to be one of the classic journal covers of all time, you know.

Ray: Absolutely. That one's from the sixties. I wasn't there for that photo, but I saw later iterations of the same experiment. Yeah, it's amazing. 

Matthew: So basically, the caterpillars take the toxins and they taste bad, you know, which makes sense.

Ray: Yeah, actually, I've never tasted a monarch or a milkweed. But I've been told, and research has indicated that cardiac glycosides taste very, very bitter. And in the monarchs that have lots of these toxins taste dreadful to vertebrates such as birds or to humans.

Rachel: So Ray, a lot of people talk about milkweed, which is good, right? We need milkweed. We don't have enough in the landscape. We need people to plant it. That's probably the number one thing you can do to help monarchs, right, and not use pesticides.

Rachel: But you have to think about the whole life cycle. So, adult females need to lay their eggs on milkweed, but what are the adults eating from? Are we missing some plants here other than just milkweed?

Ray: Yeah, adult butterflies, some butterflies eat weird things. Like rotting fruit or bird droppings, but monarchs eat nectar. And they need nectar to keep going. So, we need more nectar plants out there, preferably native wildflowers, or native trees and shrubs producing high quality nectar for monarchs and for our other pollinators.

Ray: In my part of the world, the south central US, Oklahoma, Texas, some people believe that our milkweed abundance is quite high down here and it's the lack of nectar plants that's the bigger problem. I still plant milkweeds anyway. Because I want to enhance the environment for monarchs as much as I can but the big emphasis in my region is nectar plants and everywhere could use some more nectar plants to keep monarchs going during the summer, but it's especially important for that fourth generation of monarchs that's going to migrate south to Mexico. They need a lot of energy to enable them to fly south because it is a big journey.

Ray: Now, much of that journey that they are soaring and gliding, they're using the wind to carry them down, but, it is energetically taxing. And they need native nectar plants and I'm happy to say that Xerces has produced nectar plant lists monarch nectar plant lists for every region of the lower 48 states. Those are available on our website, and I coordinate the Xerces society's database of monarch nectar observations. 

Ray: So, that would be terrific if we could put a link to our database because we need more data. We need more people to let us know what flowers monarchs are visiting where they live, particularly out away from the garden and out in native ecosystems like woodlands and swamps and prairies and marshes. But, we welcome data from anywhere. And not just the US, but also Canada, Mexico, Cuba. There's a lot more we need to know about nectar plants.

Matthew: Is there any particular season where it might be more important for the nectar plants to be available?

Ray: Certainly fall is really important to build up their strength. What I find amazing looking at the data in the database that we have - very few records of monarchs nectar in the spring. I think it's in part because that's the time when monarch numbers are the lowest. Because a lot of the monarchs died the previous year, died on their way to Mexico, or died in Mexico for various reasons, or died on the way back up.

Ray: So that's when the monarch population is smallest. And we don't have a lot of data from the spring, so we would very much welcome data from any time of year. But we really could use data from the spring and the fall. Because the nectar is fueling them, right? They’ve got to fly 2,000 -3,000 miles. I mean huge distance in the fall. And then have enough energy when they're old to breed in the spring.

Matthew: You touched on this a little bit earlier. When you're saying that the milkweed could be just an inch tall and yet somehow the monarch can find it amongst the taller grasses. How do they? You mentioned scent, but I don't know, with butterflies, where do they smell? Most insects don't have body parts like us. So how do they hear or smell? Its like totally whacked out.

Ray: Sure. They use their antennae and they actually have chemosensory structures on their front legs and even the feet of their middle legs. So I imagine they're using their antennae. The sensory structures on their antennae at a distance and then, once they land on a plant that they think might be a milkweed, they can touch the antennae to it and touch their 4 legs, their front feet to it, scratch at the leaf a little bit to get the chemicals wild up and sniff those chemicals and say, hey, wow, this is a milkweed.

Matthew: Scratch and sniff with a new image there, isn't it? But again, I'm thinking one inch high milkweed, 4 foot high grasses, the monarchs; they must climb down the grasses and then kind of walk around on stuff. It's just, amazing.

Ray: Any way they can, they get there and in early spring what's pretty amazing is that's the time of year when it's easiest to find milkweeds one inch tall for where I live in late March early February. Most haven't come up yet, but the monarchs are here and they need to lay eggs, those females feel compelled to lay eggs. So, I have found one inch tall milkweed plants with 30 eggs on it. Which is not a good development; there won't be enough milkweed to support all those caterpillars.

Ray: But, that happens. It's called egg dumping where the females just need to get it out. They just feel compelled to lay eggs. But it’s miraculous how they can find them and many other butterflies have a similar amazing ability that’s what I'll talk about that later.

Rachel: Thank you so much, Ray. We have one more question left. It's my favorite one to ask as viewers, or as listeners know. So, Ray and I are actually family. He is my cousin's husband and I've known Ray for almost my whole life and you've been known as the “butterfly guy” in my family, even before I met you, I just heard about this butterfly guy. He knows everything about butterflies. He loves butterflies. And he’s one of a few butterfly experts that we have on staff and so my question to you is, what inspired you to become the Butterfly Guy? What inspired you to go into this line of work and to become an expert in the field?

Ray: Great question. Really two things. The first thing I'll say is I was a graduate student trying to study birds at the University of Florida. Because I was a lifelong bird watcher as a kid. And I was out in the woods and I saw a pipevine swallowtail searching for pipevines to lie on and the pipevines were about an inch tall and I couldn't find them, but she could. And this wasn't a forest. So, I was amazed by the ability of female butterflies to sense their host plant. 

Ray: So, a big part of it, I've always loved animals, I've always loved plants, and butterflies. Studying butterflies and the plants they depend on is a perfect way to combine those interests. Secondly, happening to be at the University of Florida at the time when Dr. Lincoln Brower was there and hearing him talk about monarchs and the monarchs going to Mexico and talking about his studies of the barfing blue jays. It was just a natural thing for me to move into his laboratory and start working with him and I'm very glad I did.

Rachel: That's amazing. Well, thank you so much, Ray. This has been so enjoyable. I have learned a lot. I hope that our listeners have as well. Thanks for being on. I hope we can have you, back again soon and we hope to have our listeners back as well. Thank you for your time today.

Rachel: Bug Banter is brought to you by the Xerces Society, a donor supported non-profit that works to protect insects and other invertebrates – the life that sustains us. 

Rachel: If you’re already a donor, thank you so much. If you want to support our work go to xerces.org/donate. For information about this podcast and show notes go to xerces.org/bugbanter.