CAPTION BEFORE: Lyndsay Nicole is not only the most beautiful woman in the world, she’s also a badass paraglider pilot and, most-important for this expedition,
November 21st, 2020 - Lyndsay NicoleThe Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is a very familiar species due to its size and striking pattern of orange, black, and white. Life begins when eggs are laid on the leaves of the poisonous milkweed plant, the preferred food of the Monarch caterpillars.

The toxins created by the milkweed, called glycosides, are its defense--intended to keep animals from being able to eat the plant. Because only the caterpillars of the Monarch have adapted to be unaffected by the defense, Monarch caterpillars are able to eat leaves of the milkweed and store the glycosides in their own bodies, which makes the caterpillar toxic.

Adult monarchs retain the toxins, but the obvious coloration of the Monarch butterfly makes it an easy target for a predator such as a bird. If a bird eats a Monarch butterfly, the toxic plant glycosides stored in the butterfly make the bird sick. Remembering the color pattern of the butterfly, the bird learns from the experience and no longer is interested in eating Monarchs. Within that bird's territory, other Monarchs can fly about unmolested.



Don't eat the Monarchs!


This poison is similar to Digitalis, which can be used to help people with heart problems, but could actually kill a human if they consume too much of it! This toxin is poisonous to most vertebrates (animals with backbones), but they may not be poisonous to invertebrates (animals without backbones).

The potency of a Monarch Butterfly depends on the plants they ate when they were caterpillars. Some kinds of milkweed have higher levels of toxin than others. For example, Monarchs in the North have a different chemical makeup because the milkweed they eat is different from the milkweed found in the South.

The effect of the toxin depends on the amount of toxin that the predator eats, and what kind of animal the predator is. There are some birds that eat monarchs, some mammals (mice), several insects, and some parasites. We don't know much about the insect predators, but the birds have evolved interesting ways to handle the toxins in monarchs.

The two bird species that eat monarchs in the Mexican overwintering colonies have evolved to tolerate these toxins, and this is apparently true of the mice as well. Of five species of mice that are common around the overwintering sites in Mexico, only one eats Monarchs; the scansorial black-eared mouse. These mice have somehow overcome the Monarchs' chemical defenses enough to use them as an important food source during the winter.

References:


Journey North
Henderson State University
Science Friday

Photography Credit:

Lincoln Brower


November 21st, 2020 - Lyndsay Nicole - Fly Monarca Expedition
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Science & Educational Articles
Science & Education
Monarch Butterfly Documentary Check out this captivating nature documentary about the majestic Monarch Butterfly. There are many more out there, but this is a great place to start your journey of amazement. (NOTE: Low resolution, but High awesome-factor! See HQ version below if outside US) NOVA/PBS: The Incredible Journey of the Butterflies Higher Quality Version of same Documentary (Not viewable in the US and possibly elsewhere. Tested in Mexico.) NOVA/PBS: The Incredible Journey of the Butterflies Reference:PBS (Official Page) Read more
The Threat of Extinction The epic 3,000-mile monarch butterfly migration may become a thing of the past. Each fall, monarchs travel from their summer homes in the northern U.S. and Canada to winter habitats in California and Mexico. This migration is considered one of the most admirable phenomena in the animal kingdom. But, the latest survey in 2020 indicates a population decrease of 53 percent since the previous season, for a total decline of more than 80 percent over the past 20 years. The twin forces of human-caused climate change and habitat loss are now threatening North American monarch butterflies with extinction. Preserving their journey requires action in light of threats such as climate change, land conversion, and forest degradation. Climate Change: Climate change threatens to disrupt the monarch butterfly's annual migration pattern by affecting weather conditions in both wintering grounds and summer breeding grounds. Increasing carbon dioxide levels may be making milkweed (the only food monarch caterpillars will eat) too toxic for the monarchs to tolerate. And higher temperatures may also be driving summer breeding areas further north. That means the Monarchs' migration routes will get longer and therefore more difficult. Land Conversion: The creation of herbicide-resistant corn and soybeans means that farmers will eradicate weeds, including milkweed. These new crop varieties could cause the demise of the milkweed plant, a vital food source for the Monarch Butterfly. Plants like milkweed in the United States and Canada are essential for monarch reproduction; it's the only plant where monarchs lay their eggs and where baby larvae feed from. In addition to the loss of milkweed across farms, drought and development on the land where milkweed once grew abundantly, has reduced the plant numbers significantly. Forest Degredation: Generations of the Monarch butterflies travel thousands of miles until they reach Mexico, where they overwinter until it's time to begin their migration back home in March. The butterflies spend their time in concentrated areas of forest where they form colonies by clinging to the branches of trees, forming beautiful cascading clusters. These mountain forests in Mexico are their winter habitat, however nearby human communities also rely on them and create pressure on forests through agriculture and tourism activities. "We have the capability to save the monarch and other species. The question is whether we have the will to do it."-Chip Taylor (MonarchWatch) What You Can Do To Help: As population numbers continue to drop, extinction of the Monarch Butterfly is becoming even more likely. Just like every other organism, plant, insect or animal on the planet, monarchs play a crucial role in the survival of our ecosystems. Butterflies help pollinate plants, making them a vital contributor to crop growth and food production. They also serve as a food source to birds and other animals. We can all help by creating new monarch habitats by planting native milkweed species. This will help provide crucial fuel and rest stops for the traveling butterflies, as will taking more action to address climate change. Ditch the pesticides in your yard, and choose to purchase organic and non-GMO products as often as possible. And by being a conscious consumer, you can help prevent deforestation by avoiding the purchase of wood and paper products unless they're certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. References: National Geographic World Wildlife Federation One Green Planet Read more
Monarch Watch: Ambassadors of Science Monarch Watch is a volunteer-based, citizen science organization, and an affiliate of the Kansas Biological Survey. Their main focus is on the annual North American migration of the Monarch butterfly. The organization creates and distributes tags to place on monarch butterflies in order to track their migration path from Canada and the United States to Mexico. The first monarch citizen science program was launched in the 1950s and, since then, thousands of volunteers have made fundamental contributions to our accumulating knowledge of monarch biology. The Monarch Watch initiative's tagging program aims to associate the point of capture of each butterfly with the point of recovery. The data obtained is used to determine the migratory routes of the monarchs, the influence of the weather on their journey, and survival rates, among other factors. The program involves more than 2,000 schools, nature centers, and other organizations in the U.S. and Canada, as well as an estimated more than 100,000 students and adults who participate in tagging activities each fall. Scientists know a lot about the migration of Monarch butterflies, because they have received information about more than 2,000,000 monarchs over the years. By working together across North America, they continue to support the Monarch Butterfly populations by providing resources, data, scientific research and information about all things Monarch. If you ask them, they would tell you it is citizen scientists who are responsible for saving the Monarch butterfly, a species at risk in all three North American countries; Mexico, the United States, and Canada. No effort is too small to have a positive impact. For more information on how to get involved, please visit the official Monarch Watch website. References: Wikipedia University of Kansas Biological Survey Central Lake Ontario Conservation Monarch Conservation Toolbox Oxford Academic Read more

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