Comparing experiences with monarchs between Canada and New Zealand

This topic contains 11 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  Jacqui 4 years, 7 months ago.

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  • #41121

    cadymoyer
    Participant

    Hi,

    my name is Cady, I’m a museum studies graduate student at the University of Toronto in Canada, and I am doing a project on monarchs. It wasn’t until I started my project that I even knew there was an established population of monarchs in New Zealand! Since then, I’ve read about this population, but its hard to get the whole picture of what a species is like in its environment without seeing it or actually talking to people about it.

    I was wondering if anyone wanted to share with me their experiences of monarchs in New Zealand through this Forum post? I am really interested in what you know about monarchs in New Zealand and how that might be the same and/or different from what i know of monarchs.

    Thanks!

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  • #41166

    Jacqui
    Keymaster

    Oh yes! Forgot to mention Araujia sericefera which in the top half of the North Island is a shocking pest. Grows rampant up trees in parks and in untended places so it would be almost impossible to eliminate it. They were talking about bringing in an Admiral from South America but that never eventuated, now they’re planning to bring in a rust to control it.

    http://www.nzpps.org/journal/59/nzpp_590180.pdf

    #41165

    milkweed
    Participant

    Correction, moth plant is not native to NZ, but arrived in the 1880’s from South America as an ornamental species. It’s a cousin of the milkweed as it’s in the Asclepiadoideae family. In North America it’s often called ‘cruel vine,’ for obvious reasons.
    I’m also trying hard to keep my other milkweed vine Cynanchum laeve alive but it doesn’t like NZ conditions much where I live. It seems to grow well in the green house but otherwise grows slowly then dies off.

    #41164

    milkweed
    Participant

    A native vine here called ‘moth plant’ (Araujia sericifera) is readily eaten by the monarch catepillars although the butterfly won’t usually lay her eggs on it.
    The flowers are despised by people here as they trap the butterfly and it dies.
    Several other species of milkweed are growing here such as A.incarnata, A.syriaca, A.purpurascens and A.curassavica (and a few others) although I’ve only ever seen A.incarnata and A.curassavica in garden centres here though.

    #41162

    Jacqui
    Keymaster

    Hi Cady

    Point of clarification!

    The swan plant is indeed a milkweed. It’s just that NZers don’t generally know the term. In fact when I was growing up, if someone had a wart they would be told to remove by putting ‘milkweed’ juice on the wart, but the plant being referred to was the milk from dandelions, Taraxacum officinale or another plant Euphorbia peplus.

    This document explains the milkweed hierarchy here:

    https://www.monarch.org.nz/species/monarchs/monarch-host-plants/milkweed/

    Yes, I think you’re probably right about our Monarchs following the ‘territorial expansion/contraction’ example, but not having a scientific background would rather someone else spoke up about that! There is an article or two in our latest magazine too – we hope that it will encourage more people to get involved in tagging.

    Cheers

    Jacqui

    #41160

    cadymoyer
    Participant

    Thank you Jaine and Jaqui! That is really interesting, I had not realized that the swan plant wasn’t a member of the milkweed family. I know with milkweeds it is the cardenolides in the plant that are the source of the monarch butterfly’s toxicity, so the I wonder if the toxin in the Gomphocarpus physocarpus is similar…and I wonder what is about the gourd family that makes it an acceptable food source for monarchs in their 5th instar. Hmm…

    And Jaine, your anecdote is perfect, thank-you. In my research on the North American eastern population of monarchs, it has been citizen scientists–people actively participating and learning about monarchs–that have made all the difference when coming to understand them.

    Part of my project talks about the adaptations monarchs have in order to survive, and hearing about not one but two different food plant species that can be subbed in for a milkweed variety is very thought provoking. I haven’t been able to find out anything about monarch larvae food adaptations in the libraries I have access to.

    Perhaps a reason for this is that scientists studying the population in Canada are focused on the migration process and trying to solve those mysteries. But wow, for years as a naturalist I’ve been telling people that milkweed is absolutely the only thing a monarch will eat. It appears I have not been giving monarchs enough credit for their ability to adapt to a new environment!

    Speaking of which, how does migration of monarchs work in New Zealand? Is it more like the North American western population that is not truly migratory, more of a territorial expansion and contraction based on the seasons?

    Thank you again for taking the time to answer my questions! I really appreciate it.

    – Cady

    #41159

    Jacqui
    Keymaster

    Hi Jaine and Cady

    Firstly, swan plant has an interesting history – both in its origin and its change of name.

    While the Monarch comes from North America, and the host plants there are members of the Asclepias family, our swan plant comes from Africa and it is suspected that seed arrived here inside soft furnishings, life-preservers or padded garments which were dumped when they had finished their useful life. It is well known that in both Africa and America native people have used the filaments (fluff) which comes with the seed as “stuffing” in garments and soft furnishings.

    Most of NZ’s early European settlers came around the Cape of Good Hope, so there would have been many opportunities to buy soft furnishings or garments when they went on shore. In some Australian states Gomphocarpus species have been recognised as a pest plant.

    Name: https://www.monarch.org.nz/species/monarchs/monarch-host-plants/

    In actual fact not many people in NZ refer to the host plant for Monarchs as “milkweed” – they mostly use “swan plant” even if the seed pods don’t resemble swans! There are other varieties available as you’ll see in our “Shop”.

    Now I don’t know who discovered it but I was told this some 30 or 40 years ago – that Monarch caterpillars in their last instar can be fed on pumpkin or the flesh of any fruit in the cucurbit family, e.g. squash, pumpkin, cucumber, courgette or zucchini, gherkin etc. However, for some people it doesn’t work and I suspect that if a Monarch can still “sense” that there is milkweed to be had in the vicinity, they won’t want to eat pumpkin. Some people drape thin slices of pumpkin over the denuded milkweed when they run short while others put the caterpillars into a shoe-box or similar with pumpkin etc.

    Hope that helps!

    Jacqui

    #41158

    Jaine
    Participant

    Thanks Milkweed, that makes sense 🙂

    Cady
    I think that happens sometimes when people buy a swan plant (milkweed) and there are so many caterpillars on it the plant is stripped before it gets a chance to establish. Then people scramble to find other feed for the caterpillars. I have seen them eat pumpkin when desperate but I don’t know what else they can survive on.
    Sorry this is only anecdotal and not scientific at all. Maybe others can help?

    #41156

    cadymoyer
    Participant

    Good-morning! (well in Ontario, Canada at least 😉 )

    Thank-you for your quick response, and I’m sorry for how long its taken me to get back to this forum, I’ll check back regularly from now on as I’m excited to hear your answers!

    I do have lots of questions, most of them centre around the connection between migration and physiology of monarchs in New Zealand, but there was something else I found curious when I was researching monarchs in New Zealand, which is monarch caterpillar diet. I read that if monarch caterpillars in their later instars run out of milkweed (or swan weed I think it is also called in New Zealand?) they will eat other plants. Is this something anyone else is familiar with?

    In Canada there is a lot of importance placed on milkweed, planting it, growing it, and protecting it as it is the only host plant for monarch eggs and larvae. I’ve observed many monarchs from egg to butterfly, but I’ve never not found them on milkweed or not fed them milkweed…I didn’t think it was possible they would eat anything else other than that plant, and their shedded skins of course 😉

    I’m looking forward to hear people’s thoughts about this!

    Thanks!

    – Cady

    #41128

    milkweed
    Participant

    I think the point Jacqui is trying to make is that there isn’t a single place that monarchs migrate or over winter to in New Zealand.
    Nelson’s a prominent and historical place for the butterflies to go as its very warm in summer and very sunny all year round.
    In New Zealand Monarchs prefer a warm sunny sight with protection from certain types of ever green trees (firs) from the wind and frost during winter and these conditions exist in many places here.
    As I recall over wintering sights have occurred over the years here in Hutt Valley, Christchurch, Hawkes Bay, Tauranga and Northland and various others that I can’t recall. I don’t know if these sites host over wintering monarchs every year but they must be hiding somewhere because they arrive every Spring and spread progressively around the country laying eggs and eating the most common species of milkweed here, G. physocarpa/fruticosa that garden centres supply.
    Others please chip in here and tell us more or correct me!

    #41125

    Jaine
    Participant

    I always thought monarchs (well at least the ones in Nelson) over wintered in the big conifer trees at Isel Park in Stoke, Nelson. Is this no longer the case?

    #41122

    Jacqui
    Keymaster

    Hi Cady

    Great to hear from you. I’m sure we’d love to share our experiences of Monarchs here in NZ and suggest you post a few questions to us. NZ is such a small country that a lot of our news comes from overseas, so I am pretty sure that most Monarch-lovers know about the Monarchs in North America, and how they migrate.

    We’ve been tagging here in NZ for about nine years I think. We still need to get more people tagging and more people aware of the project. There’s an article in our latest magazine about it – I’ll send you a pdf of the pages.

    The difficulty in NZ with tagging is that we don’t know where the butterflies are overwintering, and whereas in Mexico the people there are happy to look for and redeem tags for a few dollars, that wouldn’t work here.

    There was some historical information about Monarchs on our website here but I now can’t see the links to some of it. I will try and find the material today 🙁 But here’s one piece that might interest you:

    The Universal Monarch

    Please go ahead and ask any questions you want, we’d love to share our knowledge with you.

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