2018 Monarch Season Results

Thanks to MEI member, J. Ross, for the photo.
2018 has been a banner year for Monarchs in Eastern Iowa! 

Our dedicated members raised and released a whopping 21,036 monarchs from eggs and caterpillars this year.  This total surpassed the past 4 years (2014-2017) cumulative total of 18,321 raised monarchs. 

In the five years of our group's existence members have raised over 39,000 monarchs. This shows OUTSTANDING dedication and effort! This year we added 300 members bringing our total membership to 1400.


Each year members voluntarily fill out information they have collected. Please note that not all members kept track of their activities.

Number of monarch eggs, cats or butterflies adopted out to neighbors, friends, & classrooms - 1,927
 - Female monarchs released - 7,269 
 - Male monarchs released - 7,060 
 - Deceased caterpillars - 758
 - Number of monarchs tagged and released to fly to Mexico - 2,592


 - Meet & Greet joint meeting with the Muscatine Pollinator Project
 - Making milkweed seedballs at the EcoFest in Cedar Rapids for Milkweed Matters RAGBRAI initiative

 - Passed out info and free milkweed plants at Indian Creek Nature Center's Spring Plant Sale 
 - Helped sponsor a presentation, "The Monarchs are Coming", by Debbie Jackson, Monarch Watch Conservation Specialist, at Indian Creek Nature Center along with an information table.
 - Manned information and milkweed/pollinator plant give-away tables and volunteered at Indian Creek Nature Center's "Monarch Fest".  Harvested milkweed leaves from a local prairie and supplied caterpillars and eggs for the ICNC Monarch Festival as well as their children's programs throughout the season.
 - Information table at Fairfax, Iowa, Monarch Festival (put on by one of our members)
 - Encouraged members to register their growing area to be a Monarch Waystation (there were quite a few takers!) 
 - Many presentations, slide shows, and talks by members to groups and in classrooms.
 - Helped harvest milkweed for "Milkweeds for Monarchs", a project of Monarch Research Project
 - Held a milkweed and pollinator seed exchange in the fall in Ely, Iowa, for members and the public.
 - Facilitated several presentations about Monarchs in Mexico by Ellen Sharp, Cultural anthropologist, who lives at the entry of Cerro Pelon, a Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Mexico, and is co-owner of JM Butterfly B&B and director of Butterflies & Their People, A.C.

Thank you, thank you, thank you all for supporting our beautiful monarchs as we look forward to the new year!  Plan to PLANT MORE MILKWEED & PLANT MORE POLLINATOR PLANTS for 2019!


Winter planting - milkweed and perennial seed

Thanks to Nancy Mast for the photo.
Many of our members collect milkweed seeds from a variety of milkweed as well as seeds from native perennial plants that provide nectar for monarch butterflies and other insects (such as new england aster, liatris, coneflowers, bee balm, ironweed, etc.).  They also save seed from beneficial annual plants to replant in the spring.

Milkweed and many perennial seeds can be directly planted in the ground in late October or November, after the soil temperature is below 50 degrees. The Iowa State Extension publishes soil temperatures at

Ground temperatures in Iowa are now (October 12th) under or near 50 degrees, so it is time to think about winter planting either in the ground or in containers.

In the spring when conditions are right, the seeds should sprout and grow. What could be easier? There is no need to cold-stratify the seed.  Mother Nature does it for you!

Please click to read more about winter planting!


If you don't winter-plant your milkweed or perennial seed and are saving it for spring, or saving it to share with others, you will need to cold-stratify them (put them through a period of cold).  Click on this link from Prairie Nursery in Wisconsin for a good explanation of various methods of stratification as well as a chart showing many plants and what treatment they need.

For a list of Monarch Nectar Plants, see the Xerces Society chart (scroll down)


Here they come!

Monarch butterflies are heading south.  Below is a link to the map that shows monarch roosts that were reported from various states.  

Please report YOUR sighting to Journey North by finding the "Report Sighting" button on the above link.



Is tropical milkweed harmful in Iowa

Asclepias curassavica (tropical milkweed)

From Debbie Jackson, Monarch Watch Conservation Specialist
"So many people are hearing tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) is harmful to monarchs and the migration. It is - in SPECIFIC locations.  It is certainly NOT harmful in Iowa or states that get frost.  Dr. Chip Taylor was asked his opinion on the matter and here is his response."
Dr. Chip Taylor

I’ve been asked by several people to comment on some recent research on Asclepias Curv that has gotten a lot of press.

Here is an example. More bad news for Monarchs - Study shows climate changes devastating effect 

I want to make it clear that I have NO issue with the science, but have distinctly different take on the interpretations and implications of the study.

First of all, A.c., per se, is not bad for monarchs. It’s their ancestral base. It’s the dominant milkweed throughout the tropics and both it and monarchs occur in regions with extremely hot climates. Monarchs use A. c. in central AZ which is about as hot as it gets. If future climates are as hot as AZ in most of the monarch range, there will be few milkweeds of any species and virtually no monarchs. People aren’t putting any of these studies into the larger context - either at a continental scale or in view of future climates.

A.c. gets a bad wrap - partly because it’s not native, partly because it grows all winter along the Gulf coast such that multiple females bearing O.e. spores visit the relatively few plants available thus depositing spores on the leaves in the process of laying eggs. That dynamic has the potential to increase the incidence of O.e., which does depress the population. That said, the easy solution is to cut the A. c. back to the ground twice a year at critical times. If A.c. was well established and abundant along the coast, it would be one thing, but it is almost exclusively found in gardens and quantitatively is a TRIVIAL component of the collective populations of milkweeds.

Looking at this in the context of plant/insect dynamics, the responses of milkweeds to increased temperatures and CO2, as well as stress, which can change the amount of toxins in the plants, the amount of latex or the nutritional quality, are all part of the monarch’s world. Monarchs already deal with a broad spectrum of milkweeds species which vary greatly in their toxicity, responses to stress, latex production, nutritional quality and rates of senescence, etc.

For me, the bigger issue is maintaining the migration itself. With that perspective, and with my eye on future climates, I see all of the issues involving A.c. as distractions from what we should be paying attention to, namely, that we are loosing 1-2 million acres of habitat each year - mostly due to development (at present). Unfortunately, our restoration efforts aren’t keeping pace with those losses. We are losing the battle - this year’s large population notwithstanding.

Here is another point, more obscure, and I won’t explain all the details, but I’m speaking from data, the impact of planting A.c. varies greatly across the latitudes and especially the longitudes from the Rockies to the east coast.

At best, we should be using the concerns about A.c. to leverage the planting of native milkweeds without sending the message, since some people are not very discerning, that all milkweeds are bad - and yes, some people are reacting in that way. Negative messages generally don’t work and haven’t been terribly effective in cutting down the planting of A. c.

We need a more positive approach to how we engage the public about this species.



Upcoming monarch activities

Three chances to hear Dr. Ellen Sharp speak about Monarchs and some upcoming Monarch Festivals in the area.

Hear Dr. Ellen Sharp ....

1.  Saturday, August 18 -1:00-4:00pm
Monarch Conservation in Mexico, Dr. Ellen SharpWickiup Hill Outdoor Learning Area, 10260 Morris Hills Rd, Toddville, Iowa
Hosted by Linn County Conservation - Wickiup Hill Outdoor Learning Area

     Many people in the U.S. and Canada are passionate about protecting North America’s monarch butterfly migration, but what happens once the monarchs reach their overwintering grounds in Mexico? This talk will provide an overview of Mexico’s official conservation efforts and the on-the-ground reality of what ordinary Mexicans are doing to help this fragile phenomenon to survive.
      Dr. Ellen Sharp is a cultural anthropologist who lives in a tiny town at the entry of the Cerro Pelon, a Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary where she and her husband run an ecotourism business. There is no cost for the program. Donations welcome.

2.  Sunday, August 19 - 10 am 
Monarch Migration, Iowa to Mexico, Dr. Ellen Sharp
Reno Park, Goose Town, Iowa City

 3.  Monday, August 20 -6:00pm
Monarch Migration, Iowa to Mexico, Dr. Ellen Sharp

Indian Creek Nature Center, 5300 Otis Rd SE, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Please register for this event at  https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSe7OCtrUAmE2oTTw2WVJkD0oc0tBxe6CmlwFax1Of093P2yLA/viewform

And festivals!

Sunday, August 26 -1:00 to 3:00 pm
 Iowa City Monarch Festival

The Festival will be held at Terry Trueblood Park Lodge,

579 McCollister Blvd, Iowa City.
This event is free to participate and open to everyone. In previous years, folks have enjoyed family-friendly activities, games and crafts, along with a photo booth and lots and lots of learning displays and handouts about the Monarch butterfly


Saturday, September 8 -10:00am
Monarch Migration Festival   

Lakeside Nature Center, 1033 S Lake Storey Rd, Galesburg, Illinois 61401
Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Education / Conservation and Activities for all ages. Find posters and more on website:

Facebook event:  https://www.facebook.com/events/1400330456742748/  

Monarch Zones and the Linn County Master Gardeners are sponsoring an event this fall and are asking for help from various groups (boy or girl scout troops, 4H clubs, church groups, employee groups and the like) to help harvest vast amounts of Milkweed Seed Pods. They will be added to the Milkweed Seed Pantry for the “2019 Milkweed One Million Seed Give-a-way.” Milkweed pods are usually ready to harvest from mid-September through October, but dates are dependent on weather, moisture and other acts beyond our control. They will provide instructions for picking and places to find the pods.

Read the flyer at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1bxe_ifA15BsrATeXPJ0d9aJneHrpCFU9/view
If you or your group are interested please sign up at the below link.



2018 Summer progress

MEI members are happily raising LOTS of monarch butterflies from eggs or caterpillars they find on milkweed plants.  This year was a surprise as eggs and "cats" started showing up in May, early for Iowa. The numbers of eggs we are finding in June and July is surprising and we have many new members (membership is over 1200 now). Some members are getting overloaded and offering eggs and cats up for adoption by other members. We should have a good tally of the numbers raised by MEI members by the end of September, or early October.

PRAIRIE MILKWEED AND THE MONARCH FESTIVAL   We have also added many members that are interested in adding various milkweeds and pollinator plants to their home gardens, and have several new members that have established prairies on their land.  One prairie man offered Indian Creek Nature Center his prairie with vast amounts of milkweed as a place to collect milkweed leaves to pass out along with monarch caterpillars to attendees of their Monarch Festival, held July 7, 2018.  A crew from the MEI group gathered the day before the festival to collect milkweed leaves at the prairie and put them in plastic bags, ready to give out at the fest. (Thank you Paul M.!)

Indian Creek gave out more than 200 monarch caterpillars during Monarch Fest.  MEI members were there to help, give instructions, answer questions, show various sizes of caterpillars via microscopes (kids loved it) and also to give out milkweed and pollinator plants to the public and encourage them to plant for monarchs.  The Monarch Research Project (Monarch Zones) was also present, showcasing their Monarch Bio Tents, and released hundreds of Monarch Butterflies in two sessions, much to the delight of kids and parents.

Fairfax Girl Scouts standing in back of their new Monarch Waystation garden.
THE TOWN OF FAIRFAX, Iowa, has added a Monarch Waystation and a Monarch Bio Tent to their local library grounds and their local girl scout group held a Monarch Fest on July 22nd.  MEI members were again present to help out, as was the Monarch Research Project. The girls gave away caterpillars, milkweed leaves and plants, and had a butterfly release.  Fairfax may soon be bursting with Monarch butterflies! Kudos to MEI member and girl scout leader, Audrey N. and her scouts for organizing this new event!



Come to Indian Creek Nature Center for the
3rd Annual Monarch Fest
Saturday July 7, 10 AM– 1 PM
This event is free and open to the public! 
Click below to see what is available and
Click to SIGN UP

Enjoy a fun-filled day of games, activities and learning at this family-friendly festival. Celebrate the journey these extraordinary butterflies make every year and why they are so important to our planet. Come for a short while, or stay the whole day!
  • Children’s crafts
  • Milkweed seed ball making for Ragbrai riders
  • Vendors
  • Caterpillar adoptions (Limited number each hour, one caterpillar per family)
  • Butterfly releases 
  • Educational presentations
  • Free popped popcorn for sale 
  • Signature Honey Lemonade for sale, featuring honey from Indian Creek Nature Center