Monarch Butterflies with Nate Haan

June 5, 2020

MSU Extension Cabin Fever Conversations featuring Monarch Butterflies with Nate Haan.

Cabin Fever Conversations help connect you to your garden and fellow gardeners, even when we are stuck inside during the long Michigan winters. Each weekly session featured a conversation to help get your mind outside and into the garden, highlighting the passion and wisdom of featured speakers.

More resources and recordings to other sessions are available on the Cabin Fever Conversations website.

Video Transcript

Today on Cabin Fever Conversations We're focused on monarch butterflies. I'm your co-host Abby Harper. Community Food Systems educator with MSU Extension base here in Lansing, Michigan. And my co-host today will introduce today's speaker. Yeah, so I'm Isabel and I am a Consumer Horticulture Educator based out of Ingham County. And today we have Nate Haan with us. And he is a researcher in the entomology department at Michigan State University. So thank you so much for being with us today, Nate, and I want to start off by asking what kind of research do you do? [Nate] Yeah, so glad to be here. oh, side note, I am, I live in the country and I have terrible wifi. So I snuck into a friend's backyard and I'm stealing their wifi. So if the Universe chooses to have a loud neighbour or a big truck roll by, or a squirrel or whatever. That's just going to happen and we'll roll with it. [Isabel} ...or mosquitoes probably? [Nate] [Nate] [Nate] [Nate] [Nate] [Nate] [Nate] [Nate] [Nate] [Nate] [Nate] [Nate] [Nate] I have a citronella candle. [Isabel} Perfect! [Abby} I don't know that mosquitoes are particularly audible but we'll keep an eye out for it. [Nate] [Nate] [Nate] [Nate] [Nate] [Nate] [Nate] [Nate] [Nate] [Nate] [Nate] [Nate] Yeah. Yeah. Anyway, yeah. So I am in the entomology department and I'm an insect ecologist, so I'm usually interested in insect related conservation issues. So like generally I'm working to understand how we can create landscapes in spaces that are more friendly to biodiversity and particularly insect biodiversity. So I do some work with monarch butterflies, that's what I'm talking about mostly today. I also I work as part of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center part of a team of scientists trying to understand how adopting bioenergy fuels, bioenergy crops will change landscapes and how that will change insects in the future. But yeah, today we're talking monarchs. [Abby} So how did you get started? And I know today we're talking about monarchs, and I know that's a particular area of interest for us. I'm curious what got you geeked about monarchs? [Nate] Yeah, I mean, I think it's the regular, the story that a lot of people tell probably about. I was really into bugs in nature and stuff when I was a kid and it gradually sort of spiraled out of control into a job. But yeah, I, I was a biology major in college and I was really into plants. And then I did a Master's degree at University of Michigan mostly focusing on like restoration ecology and plants again. And that did a PhD at the University of Washington and studied plant insect interactions. I started getting more into the bug side of things and then yeah, now I'm a research associate in the entomology department. So now I'm still playing with bugs, but from a more bug perspective, yeah, [Abby} I love that you connect it back to being a kid and poking at bugs. I feel like I have so many visuals of children in the neighborhood who were just really into squishing bugs or observing interactions between like magnifying glasses and ants. It sounds like you're a little bit more beneficial things than maybe what the kids in my neighborhood that we're doing. [Nate] maybe less squishing. [Abby} it's nice to see those early interests evolve into a career is better. That stem from very early passion. [Nate] Yep. Oh yeah. [Isabel} So digging a little bit more into monarch butterflies for those of us who maybe don't know much about like their lifecycle. And could you tell us a little bit more about that? [Nate] And I've got I'm not sure my screen because I've got pictures and stuff. Great. Awesome. [Nate] Alright. Did that work? {Isabel] Yeah. Yeah. Perfect. Right. [Nate] Okay. Yeah. So monarchs, their scientific name is Danaus plexippus or you can just call it a monarch if that's easier. Yeah, here's what they look like. They're really charismatic, colorful. This is the caterpillar in its fifth instar, which is the final stage before they molt into a pupa or chrysalis. Great. So I don't know how much people got before, but the eggs are really small. They're laid just one egg at a time only on milkweed plants, and those hatch and you get a really little caterpillar at first, and then they go through different growth stages called instars, which are basically, they, they grow for a little while until they've sort of filled up their exoskeleton and then they actually molt out of it and shed it. They sort of climb out of it, like you might climb out of a sleeping bag or something. And then they can expand to a little bit bigger. And so over the course of a couple of weeks, you'll go through five instars. That picture there is in the fifth instar. That's when they're, I don't know. That's when they look the coolest. So that's when we took pictures of them and then they they find a place to pupate. So then they molt and form a chrysalis like you can see here. During that time, they're basically just hanging upside down. And inside of that chrysalis all of their tissues are reorganizing into the adult form. Then they'll come out as an adult. And you see those around. And at that point they don't eat leaves anymore. They're just drinking nectar from flowers. [Isabel] One of the things that just blows my mind is on the chrysalis...the gold details to it. Just amazing! [Nate] [Nate] [Nate] [Nate] [Nate] and I feel like I should be able to tell you what the point of those are, like, what adaptive value they have other than looking really cool, but I don't actually know. [Abby] Staying on brand with their coloring. I think. They stick to style a little bit. A little bit of bling. So why do you think it's important for your average gardener to care about monarchs? Somebody who might not be studying that for whatever reason, might not be fascinated with their colors and their beauty. What, what's the importance for them? [Nate] Right. So sort of three reasons I think that people should care about monarchs. And the first one is they're just really cool. So if you're, if you're the average gardener, adult monarchs need nectar from flowers. So if you're growing plants that produce big, colorful flowers, they'll get even more colorful when you have an adult butterfly landing on them drinking nectar. That's really cool. If you have any milkweed in your yard, that's their host plant, that's the only thing they lay eggs on, and what the caterpillars eat. And if you have milkweed in your garden or in your yard or your property or whatever, they can complete their whole life cycle in your yard. So that's, I think that's pretty cool. Another reason to care about monarchs is they're declining right now. So since the 1990s, we think their population's gone down by about 80%. And the reasons for that are complicated, but couple important things are one that they're not able to find enough milkweed to lay eggs on and for larvae to develop on. So, so that's...they need more milkweed and gardeners can help with that, right, by incorporating that into their garden. And there's also not enough nectar resources. So again, gardeners, you know, put more flowers out in the landscape. That's good for monarchs too. Monarchs are also there, kind of like a bellwether or a canary in the coal mine for insects in general. So they're not actually, think of them as pollinators. They're not actually very useful as pollinators. They're not very effective at it. Bs are way more important in terms of moving pollen around to help plants reproduce. But monarchs are kind of a figurehead because they're big and orange and cool and everybody knows them and their declining. So there's sort of a bellwether for insects in general. And some of the, some of the reasons that monarchs are declining are reasons that insects in general are thought to be declining. And a lot of the things that folks can do to help monarchs, like, you know, putting more flowers out on the landscape also benefit other pollinators and other beneficial insects to. So there's sort of a, a sort of like bring along all the other insects with them as a figurehead. [Abby} Yeah, now this reminds me of some conversations where we were talking about migratory bird as well of the different ones that kind of are indicating broader problems beyond just that species, you know, not existing or that species being kind of the signaling of other environmental concerns we might need to pay attention to. Can you talk a little bit about the butterfly migration or about belief and how that, how that works. [Nate] Yeah. And Isabel it might be helpful to pull up, I had a picture of that because it's easier with a visual aid. [Isabel} Oh, yeah. [Nate] So yeah, that what we see of monarchs is just a little snippet of their migratory cycle. So they're, they're up here in the summer, but their migratory cycle is actually much more complicated. So if we were to start in the wintertime, in the winter, this population, the Eastern Monarch population, and I should say there are other populations. There's another one west of the Rockies and there are other ones around North America and the world. But the eastern population, one that we see over winters in fir trees in the highlands of central Mexico in really, really dense colonies. So that picture there, those aren't leaves, those are all monarch butterflies hanging on trees. [Isabel} Nate, what kind of tree was it? [Nate] it's called an Oyamel Fir. for okay, yeah. And I'm not sure why that species is what they pick. It's not like they're eating it, they're just hanging out. But yeah. So they spend winters clustered like that. And then in the springtime, March and April, they fly north to Texas, that general area, and lay eggs on milkweed, and then they die and the adults die and eggs developing the caterpillars and adults, and those adults fly north. And those are the ones that if you've seen a monarch this year so far, it's probably one that flew up from Texas or Louisiana. And its wings, you're probably pretty ragged. They come up here and then they lay eggs on milkweed and then they kind of stay here for two or three generations. Each generation takes about a month. And then they build up their numbers here in their northern like breeding grounds. And then in the fall in September and October, the adult butterflies that emerge, instead of staying and mating and laying eggs, they are wired to just fly south. And they literally fly all the way from Lansing, Michigan or wherever in the breeding range all the way back to Mexico. And sometimes they'll stop over and do another generation down in Arkansas, Texas. But they can actually fly all the way down there. So they fly all the way from here to there and then back in the back north to Texas or so before they before they die. So it's a pretty incredible migratory cycle . [Abby] So you're telling me that it's about four generations, maybe more, between the adults that leave Mexico to come down to Lansing that there's still primed to somehow make it back down to Mexico. Yeah, so the whole cycle is four or five generations and then there's one generation that's like that, one that really moves. Yeah, yeah, that's incredible. [Isabel] So Nate, Are there other species of butterflies are moths that migrate like this or are monarchs one of the only ones? [Nate] There are other insects that migrate. And they're, yes, they all have sort of different ways of moving around landscapes. There's different strategies, basically to avoid winter or go find food or resources when they're available. But the way monarchs do it, and the numbers with which they do it, and their habit of concentrating really densely in those roost sites over winter is pretty, pretty unique. It's not a normal, it's not a normal strategy. It's kind of out there. [Isabel} Cool. So how does this sort of passion for monarchs and insects play out in your work? [Nate] Oh, in my work? [Isabel} or in your life... [Nate] In my work I really, really like brainstorming, how to figure things out. So like just, just coming up with a research question, like we asked what eats monarchs? And then we had to figure out ways to see what kinds of predators eat monarchs. And we had a PhD student in our lab who used video cameras, like surveillance cameras overnight to see what insects would come out at night and eat monarch caterpillars and eggs. So that's really fun. I like just figuring out how to... I like figuring things out, I think is what it comes down to. And at home like in the, in the rest of my life. So I live out in the country and we raise some animals. We have some sheep. and we have a few acres that we're trying to make generally biodiversity friendly. So we're trying to diversify the plant communities in our pastures. And we're converting chunks of land, there over to native prairie and yeah, which is slow going. We're mostly growing A lot of burdock weeds at this point, and I have a big native garden in our front yard that has, I don't know, maybe 60 native Michigan species. And it's fun to see all the insect diversity that comes to those plants. [Abby] So there was a question about migration, which I'm just going to ask now. So somebody asked if a lot of schools and kids will hatch monarch butterflies in captivity or those Monarch still primed to migrate? It depends, I think on, I think it depends. So one will do that is to like go find monarch eggs in your backyard and then bring them into a cage and rear them up. And if you do that, I think probably the, the butterfly will behave normally. There are some like disease risk issues if you're concentrating them in containers and stuff and rearing them up and then having them go spread out if they have a pathogen or something, which there are some monarch pathogens than those can end up, you can end up you know, making that problem worse. But the other place that folks get monarchs from is there are some hatcheries down in Florida, and there's a resident non migratory population in Florida that just lives there year round. And there are butterfly farms and you can for educational purposes and stuff by, buy them and then keep them in your house or your backyard or whatever. And I think that is a cool, it's cool educational purpose. But also butterflies from that area can carry a lot more monarch diseases and pathogens and stuff. So it's not like a good conservation thing to do to bring them to Michigan and then release them for, I think people who released them at weddings and stuff like that. Personally. I don't think that's a great idea. Yeah. Yeah. I don't know that those Florida ones would migrate. I don't know that they would be wired to migrate. Maybe they aren't, but I kind of doubt it. [Abby} It's just a generation of monarchs that says it was the place to be. No reason to leave. [Nate] there were some tropical milkweed species that had been planted in gardens and stuff too in warmer parts of the region. And then they just, butterflies just stay there year round. But because they're not migrating, they'd build up more pathogens and stuff. [Abby] So yeah, I had a friend here locally who would find monarch chrysalises on her plants in her garden and bring them in for that kind of educational purpose, the kids to be able to watch it and then release them out immediately. I also know I remembering kindergarten having like the net in the classroom and you sit there watching them. And then I think those are probably born in captivity more and yeah. Do you know how long it takes for that fourth or fifth generation that starts in Lansing, Michigan to get back down to Mexico? [Nate] That's a good question. And it's it is definitely known and not by me. [ We'll send the answer in the follow-up email. [Nate] Yeah, put that in the follow up! [Isabel} So, I'm going to pop in with another question. So as a conservation effort, do you think it's better to leave the eggs outside? or bring them in? And I mean, I think generally let nature take its course. There are many, many, many eggs outside. And that's how I personally don't think that rearing butterflies is an important conservation strategy. I think it's something people can do or for fun or for education's sake. You know, I, when I was a kid, I brought caterpillars inside and fed them their host plant. And I think that probably was important for me to, you know, maybe help lead me down my career path that I have now. But there's millions of eggs out there. And I generally think people should just let nature take its course. There are, there are habitat management things that we can do out in ecosystems to enhance monarch butterfly habitat. You know, adding more milkweed to the landscape, making sure that there's flowers for the butterflies to visit and drink nectar from. Making sure there's not, not overusing insecticides is an important thing. And then I can talk, I'll talk in a little bit about our research project that I want to advertise to people and that also has some conservation. {Abby} Yeah, so why don't we do that now? You've shared some simple steps that people could take for supporting habitat for monarchs and planting milkweed. [I know I'm, in, last couple years I've become a little paranoid about mowing around milkweed What are some other ways that folks can help create or help preserve habitat for monarchs and some of the other beneficial insects that they could. [Nate] Actually. Isabel, Could you pull up, I think I have a slide with some pictures of different milkweed species and we'll look at those before we get into that study, yeah, there's, there's a slide with butterfly weed and swamp milkweed on it. Yeah. So there's a lot of, you might know milkweed just as common milkweed. And that's actually what my research is mostly working with. But there's all kinds of milkweed species. So these are two that I have growing like in my front yard that guard. If you're into gardening, These are really garden friendly plants. Butterfly weed asclepias tuberosa is the one on the left and has these really, really cool orange flowers that all kinds of insects will visit. Monarchs will lay their eggs on butterfly weed to some extent, and it grows and it grows in its native and it grows in like Sandy grasslands varies. And then on the right, a swamp milkweed and Asclepias incarnated, and it is a milkweed that grows in wetlands. Really cool, purplish pink flowers. This one I took a picture of in my yard somewhere. And you can see there's just really cool hornet on it. Tons of butterflies visit them. They're really fun. So those are great garden plants. They don't spread so much. And then common milkweed Asclepias syriaca which I think is on the next slide. If you yeah, yeah. This is the one that you see like on roadsides and parks and crop fields and all kinds of different places? Yeah. And this one is, if you have a little space, it's what monarchs use the most. I don't know how much they like it better versus there's just more of it out in the landscape because it's really common, or at least it used to be. If you have more space in your property, this is a great one to let it grow or even plant it. I really enjoy watching it grow, but it does move. It spreads pretty quick. So if you don't have space, then maybe you go with one of the other milkweed species. [Isabel} I'm also really enjoying. Can you guys see my pointer? That tiny little instar right there! [Nate] Yeah, there's a little photo bomber and yeah, pretty cool. Yeah, that's a second or third instar. I can't quite tell from here. [Abby} So is there a way to distinguish the different instars? Yeah, they all have they all have distinct characteristics. So you can definitively tell which one is which. The caterpillars have those little tentacles on them, those little black tentacles. And you can kind of use those and how big they are and where they're going to figure out what instar it is in. Also just its size. So but I'm a little I don't I don't know if that's a second or third. [Isabel} I wish I could zoom in. It is probably very hard to tell... Let's skip ahead. [Nate] Yep. Okay. Oh, these are just more pictures are common milkweed. So milkweed gets its name because it has this milky sap, which is full of latex. So you can see in the picture on the right, i Torah leaf, that stuff can actually irritate your skin a little bit. It doesn't bug me that I think some people, it'll make you itch and its milk weeds are really toxic plants, so definitely don't eat your milkweed. They're full of steroid compounds, called cardenolides that will mess with your heart and stuff. But monarchs are adapted to them, so they can eat the poisonous plant. And then they actually, the reason for their awesome coloration, is that's actually an adaptation to warn predators not to eat them because they take those cardenolides in there and basically concentrate them in their bodies. So they have much higher, they can have much higher concentrations of cardenolides than milkweeds even do which if you're a bird and you try to eat a monarch, it might make you throw up, might make you sick. So yeah, so there are number of insects that have, have this adaptation in which instead of like trying to hide, instead of being green and trying to blend into their environment. They're actually like, "No! I'm super toxic and you don't want to eat me. And I've got my warning coloration." So yeah, pretty cool. [Abby] Nature is incredible. It's like a giant stop sign. it's pretty cool. [Nate] Yep, that's a good analogy. [Isabel} So I think you were going to talk about a community science project for gardeners? [Nate] Yes. [Isabel} Are we're ready to jump into it? [Nate] Sure. Yeah. Okay. Do more questions or whatever. So we this is the project that I want to pitch to folks and it's something that went when all that covered restrictions hit and stuff it became we basically had to take all of our research plans for this year and just chuck them out the window because we couldn't go in the lab or travel or do any of the normal things. So we didn't know what to do and we ended up coming up with this community science or citizen science project that is turning into a lot of fun. And it's something that anybody who has access to patches of common milkweed can participate in. So we're calling it Regrow Milkweed for Monarchs. And the basic idea is, in our past research, we found that with common milkweed, not so much with the other species, but with common milkweed, you can cut it back at strategic times during the summer. And it's a really robust plant that will, just a couple of weeks later, it'll put up new stems. So if you cut back common milkweed couple weeks later, new stems will come up. And we found that those new stems might be really valuable to monarchs. Monarchs lay a lot of eggs on those and they seem to prefer them. They also, those new stems have fewer of the predatory arthropods that eat monarchs. And we've done some experiments in which we found that, that just hatched caterpillars are like more than twice as likely to survive on the new milkweed stems than old ones. So we want to learn more about whether regrowing milkweed for monarchs could be a conservation technique. So basically we're expanding on the experiments that we already did and just blowing it up into a big community project in which anyone who has milkweed can join in. And yeah, we'll ask you will have instructions for you and you'll cut back your common milkweed at different points in the summer. And then we have an app, or you can use a Google form or a paper data sheet and you'll, you'll look for a monarch eggs and caterpillars and then report that back to us. And we're collecting data from folks all over the eastern US and Canada, anywhere in their breeding range of the Eastern Monarch. So we've had like, I don't know, hundreds of people interested so far. And we want, it's the more, the merrier. So yeah, so Citizen Science or community science, we're calling it Community Science because of the citizen word implies that you need to be a citizen of some country. That's not true at all. Do not care about your US citizenship status or Canadian citizenship status, but whatever doesn't matter. But it's a, it's a really cool way to like crowdsource science. So since we can't go out and sample the data, we're asking folks to collect it in their backyard and report it to us. a really cool adaptation that's come out of COVID 19 in innovation. So I included for this, we'll include it in the follow-up email too but it's in the chat right now. if you want to go to that site and look at it. [Nate] and actually, Isabel if you could go to the next slide. I think I did a screenshot of, not that one that shows milkweed getting cut down and some new milkweed stem growing up. But I wanted to show this is our website. And you can go to the link that sounds like will provide the or you can Google, regrow milkweed MSU Take a look at our website and we have some like instructional video, PowerPoint things. And the main thing that we want folks to do is sign up for email updates if you so if you're interested in this project, if you just wanna keep tabs on it, or hopefully if you want to join in, if you have some milkweed that you can cut back, sign up for email updates. And that's how we're going to communicate with everybody and send you instructions. And we have some cool photos and videos and stuff that we'll share of other, other things going on with milkweeds and with monarchs and other insects this summer. So it should be a lot of fun. [Abby] Very cool. So I transition to some of the audience questions. One that came up that I'm pretty curious about too, is you mentioned a lot of conservation efforts in this area. But given that monarchs have a pretty long migratory pattern, are there conservation efforts happening all along that route from down in the Oyamel is what you said. in Mexico in the Oyamel forest. like in Texas or Lousiana? Can you talk about conservation efforts all along that path? [Nate] Yup, totally. So I'm I'm more of an expert in conservation efforts here up in the breeding range. But yeah, there's, there's different stuff going on and there are different problems and different solutions all throughout the migratory pathway. So like in the over-wintering sites, there historically have been some issues with logging and to some extent those have been addressed just by regulating where trees can be cut down, that kind of thing. There's also climate change is a bit of a threat there because they're there up in highlands. And there's a lot of, as you know, that the climatic conditions that they need seem to be maybe moving around and extreme weather events are pretty harmful. Yeah. And then up here in the breeding range, it's really about providing milkweed for them to find and lay eggs on nectar for the adults. And then one of the other big issues is on their especially on their return flight, the butterflies need to be able to stop over and find nectar. And that's what they convert into fat. And that's what they use as you know, that's like stop at a gas station for them on their road trip is flowers. And they're basically, as agriculture has intensified and different kinds of development have happened, there's less flower resources on the landscape sometimes, or if there's like a really dry late summer or autumn, then there won't be enough flowers. And then we think that the migratory cycle can actually just be interrupted because a lot of them run out of gas and can't make it so down, yeah, in Southern US, probably making sure there's enough nectar stopping points along the way is really important. So yeah, you have to fit it altogether because it's this big cycle. [Abby} I'm imagining what that tow truck service for monarchs would look like... like bringing something to gas them up... I know that's not a thing we can think about. It is interesting to think about the different conservation tools that are needed in different spaces adapted to its problems. Here in Michigan, folks can really focus on that Cultivating milkweed, cultivating different blooming plants at various points in the season and keeping them fed here and then hoping that they're similar conservation efforts happening along the way. [Isabel} So there is a question that came in about the monarch tagging program. And do you know anything about that as like a conservation effort or just as a background. [Nate] And that one's monarch one. It's basically a way to mark and recapture butterflies so that you can tell where they came from. And there have been a number of cool efforts using different techniques to figure out movement patterns and monarchs, there used to be this big controversy about whether they move up, whether they migrate over successive generations, or whether there's one generation that like makes the whole leap. And they found succesive generations on the way up and the leap back down. And some of that was looking at how worn out the wings are because as they age, the wings wear out. And then there are these efforts, some that are really cool to mark the butterflies. And then if you can recapture it later, you has a unique identifier. You can tell where it came from, which is really cool. There have also been some studies using like isotope signatures from different places. So you can tell the like where it was a caterpillar by looking at the ratios of isotopes in the adults. So that's part of how they figured out like, you know, if you go collect butterflies in any thinking like, well, where, where did this one grow up? You can actually kind of do a probability map of where it probably came out. [Abby} Yeah, So you mentioned some of the kind of fun ways of determining predators that monarchs. You were talking about the kind of like SPY cam. Can you talk about predators for monarchs or if there are any that we should be aware of. [Nate] Yeah, so we did a project in our lab where we we basically just went out and grabbed any like predatory or omnivorous insect or a spider that we could find on milk weeds. We brought them into the lab and then we would just present them for two days with a monarch egg or hatchlings Caterpillar to see if they eat it. And about half of everything that we tested would eat with one or the other. So like we think ants probably eat a lot of them. Lady beetles, earwigs, earwigs are nocturnal and they'll actually hide in the tip of the milkweed, the growth tip during the day. And then at night they'll come out and go eat. They eat insects live or dead, And I think ate some monarchs. So it's not so much that there's like one or two predators I think that are really bad. I think it's, it's, there are lots and lots of opportunistic predators that will eat them when they're really small. I think once they're bigger, they're a little less vulnerable and then they're more toxic to when they're small. They're kinda just like little bags of protein out there for, for some creature to eat if they want to. [Isabel} YUM! So a question came in about where they pupate. So can monarchs do their entire lifecycle, is it just on milkweed or because somebody said that they usually see the caterpillars, but never the cocoons. [Nate] Right. So the caterpillars have to eat milkweed, but once they are ready to pupate they're at that point, they don't need to interact with milkweed again, except if they're gonna lay eggs, may need to lay eggs on milkweed as an adult. So I think when they pupate, those fifth instar caterpillars, they can like, they can wander really far. So I tried to measure. I had one at my house that I found it, it had pupated, become a chrysalis and I measured it and it was about 25 yards from the nearest milkweed. So I've also seen them just like climbing a tree trunks. So they're trying to find a place where they can hang and just hang there for two weeks and metamorphose. And I think they're pretty vulnerable to predators at that point because they're just hanging there, right? So I think they're trying to find a suitable place to do that and minimize the risk of getting eaten. So they go anywhere. I had one that was on a garden tool mine. I've seen them on my house. I've definitely seen them on milkweed too, they use those as well, but they wander all over the place for that part of their life. [Abby] Yeah. I wonder how long it takes them to get those yards too? That's a long trek for a tiny caterpillar. Yeah, we've had quite a few questions about predation I know a lot of conservation efforts and the monarch support efforts. have focused on habitat restoration. Are there any efforts to address predator problems? [Nate] Yeah, good question. So I for instance, in general they like predation is really, really common. That's why a lot of insects lay hundreds or even thousands of eggs. And that's because there's kind of, you know, it's the norm that like most of those eggs are going to get eaten before they hatch, and then most of the young are going to get eaten before they get bigger. And to some extent that's fine, right? But for, for monarchs in particular, they, yeah, part of our research is actually looking at the predation rates and if there are ways to reduce them. And part of the reason we're interested in doing that is because we think historically there was a lot of milkweed in crop fields where, where we know there are not a lot of predators. But since the 1990s, farmers have started using herbicide tolerant crop varieties so they spray their fields. So basically, milkweed isn't in crop fields anymore. It's only in grasslands, and parks and prairies and backyards and stuff. And in general, there's more predators in those environments than there were in those crop fields. So this is a case where we actually think that, that there might, there might be more of a predator issue, a predation issue now than there used to be. And one of the things we found in our research where we cut back milkweed is the regrowing stems have way fewer predators on them for a period of like four or five weeks. So if monarchs swoop in and lay eggs on those new stems, we think that that's why they're safer as, and it's a period of time where all those predators haven't recolonize the stems yet. So yeah, you can manage predation maybe to an extent. [Abby] and maybe through participating in the comunity science projects. [Isabel] So Nate, I think we're going to wrap things up and what we usually do is, and our conversations with the same question. So what about monarchs is bringing you hope, joy, or inspiration right now? [Nate] Well, I think one thing that's cool is even when there's a lot of turmoil in human life, nature still just does its thing. So that can be a good way to sort of meditate on that and enjoy that beauty. It's still there for us. I've also had a lot of fun setting up this citizen science or community science project. And we've sort of been able to turn lemons into lemonade. And it's something we can do our socially distance and people are really excited about it. So that's been a lot of fun. Yeah. [Isabel] Yeah. I think it's really cool and not terribly demanding of home gardeners either to just go out and cut back their milkweed and keep an eye on things. [Nate] Yep. Yeah. It's meant to be fun. Edutainment. [Abby] Yeah. And I think that way to give people opportunities to bring the education into their home spaces to, is something that even with things open up and even when things might be doing different, that even when people might be doing different things for entertainment, that helps you interact with your immediate environment and that different way. It's just a cool observational tool. It's cool to be a part of nature because I think often we think of ourselves as outside of nature, but we can have an active role in our own environments so well. Thank you so much, Nate. We really appreciate you coming on and sharing your wisdom with us and your joy. Thank you to everybody for sitting in with us and listen. And we hope a lot of you will be interested and sign up for that community project will share all of out in our follow-up email. But right now we'll say just thank you very much for being with us and we look forward to seeing you all next week when we are having our final Cabin Fever Conversation for the series, things are getting warm and people are starting to go outside again. So next week we'll be digging into soil and we're very excited for that one and to see you then. Thanks Nate! Thanks everybody for tuning in.

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