Saturday, August 5, 2023

Review for Monarchs and Milkweed by Anurag Agrawal


When my husband gifted me a corner of our new urban yard to use as a garden. His Valentine’s Day surprise was removing the sod and working the soil. My dilemma, what to do with it? It didn't take long to settle on growing milkweed for monarchs. I'd witnessed the fall migration passing through Austin, Tx, and had an overnight roost of butterflies in our trees in Bishop Hill, IL. I was sold. Getting my neighbors on board took a little more time. Now I get compliments on the sweet aroma of flowering milkweed and the pleasant sight of fluttering adult monarchs.

Along the way I've had many years of learning the ins and outs of raising several types of milkweed and how to manage some of the dangers that lie in wait for monarch caterpillars. Everything about these experiences has been enlightening, from discovering the existence of parasitic flies and wasps to witnessing the metamorphosis to adult monarch, over and over again.

Now, I have to include Anurag Agrawal's book, Monarchs and Milkweed, as an amazing discovery for my education. I've gotten new information on nasty pests, the mysterious OE, and tips on butterfly behavior. I've had several of my thoughts, based on my observations, confirmed. I have a new outlook on moving forward due to the interplay of a toxic plant and an insect as herbivore that Agrawal has provided.

There's a treasure trove of information and the science to back it up. Yes, there were times when I had to make myself keep reading. It was worth it to get a better understanding of the chemical interplay of the pertinent toxins, cardenolides, and the monarch's defensive adaptations. A chemical arms race is not a bad analogy.

The quality of the printed hardcover book was impressive. As were the photos. Who couldn’t love the photo of a Blue Jay barfing after eating a monarch? Agrawal and his crew of supporters have created an important and lasting contribution to monarch research for years to come. Five stars is not enough.


P.S. Citizen Scientists.

This is the part of the summer season when foster parenting monarch caterpillars, helping them survive to adulthood, is the most rewarding--the great migration south is coming up.

In Monarchs and Milkweeds, Anurag Agrawal, goes into the history of how the secrets of the monarch’s migration were eventually revealed. Discovering the details of the routes north and south was a process that spanned decades and involved recruiting “citizen scientists” to help with a butterfly tagging program to figure it out and ultimately find the main overwintering site in Mexico.

Now there is another push for “citizen scientists” to help researchers. The call this time is to gather dead butterflies, moths, and skippers to send in for testing.

I missed out on the original tagging program because I was too young. I’m going to miss out on this call because I don’t live in any of the target states of Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. Still, I like the idea of butterfly enthusiasts contributing to finding answers.

NOTE: There is a Nov. 1 deadline for sending specimens in to the USGS LRC. Find out more at: