Monarch Migration Research

I am a citizen/scientist working independently from any Scientific Research Institute with no reasonable access to research grant monies other than through citizens' donations. If you care about protecting the Monarch migration with new knowledge and scientific information, please make a contribution to our efforts. This study also allows me to repay an old debt to my deceased PhD program professor, Dr. Roger Morse, for training me and paying for my Cornell graduate education by finally completing and publishing a significant piece of insect research.

You see I am a Cornell University all-but-degree (ABD) PhD trained in the study of insects (entomology) and specifically honey bee behavior. I was in my mid-twenties at the time when I stumbled onto the fact that the honey bee division of labor was mostly controlled by a hormone called juvenile hormone. However, I was too young and inexperienced to explain how I had stumbled onto this promising area of research by "dumb luck", did not convince my professor and failed to get my degree. Several years later at a national science meeting, Dr. Morse told me that I had been correct. Without my PhD degree I was unable to land a University job doing scientific research and teaching, and had to find another career.

Insect juvenile hormone just happens to be my area of specialization since 8th grade when I won Grand Prize at the DC/No. VA/MD Area Science Fair with Cecropia moths and qualified for the International Science Fair  in Sweden. Normally ninth graders won so I was too young to go to Sweden and represent our area, but from that point on, I was a scientist.

In May 2004 I finally got the opportunity to create and run one of the largest native butterfly conservatories (4,000 SF) and butterfly plant selections in the nation at Lukas Butterfly Encounter in Orlando, Florida . In July 2009 when the Great Recession hit, I was forced to moved on to sustainably raising several rare Florida butterflies (Malachite & Florida Atala) for educational live displays at the Smithsonian, Fairchild Gardens, the L. A. Museum of Natural History, etc..

In 2008 I was fortunate enough to travel to Angangeo, Mexico to see two of the largest Monarch  overwintering sites (El Rosario & Sierra Cinqua) with Dr. Tom Emmel, Director of the world's largest Butterfly Collection, the McGuire Center, and former Chairman of Entomology at the U. of Florida at Gainesville. We spent 3 nights in the Mexican mountains visiting the colonies by day and by night listened to 3 hrs. of background information from Dr. Emmel (28 years visiting and studying the migration in Mexico) and 2 hours from Dr. Chip Taylor (head of Monarch Watch) on what we really know about the Monarch migration. It was during Dr. Taylor's talk that I realized that this Monarch migration was yet another juvenile hormone system that I had stumbled onto.

The Monarch, our unofficial National Butterfly, is famous for its incredible migration to Mexico and back and is under extreme stress due to decreasing population numbers in recent years. We all are concerned about the fate of the migration in upcoming years, especially with regard to Climate Change. Increasing warmer temperatures during the migration can have very negative effects on the migration cycle and especially on the cool overwintering "hibernation"  sites in Mexico and California.

 Since 2016 I have been researching the "hibernation"  (reproductive diapause) and migration of the Monarch butterfly under the guidance of  former Chairman of Chemistry and retired UCF biochemist, Dr. Glenn Cunningham. The U. of Central Florida is the 2nd largest University in the country by enrollment. It turns out that juvenile hormone plays a pivotal role in the overwintering "hibernation" (diapause) of migratory Monarch butterflies and my 13 year friendship with Dr. Cunningham would push me back into scientific research to try to help understand and save the migration.

Think of it like this: How would a bear from the Northern US/ Canada hibernate in the fall if it had to travel all the way to Mexico before it could slip into the immobilizing deep-sleep of hibernation? It would have to be in a state (pre-hibernation/ partial diapause) where it could still travel until it got to the ideal hibernation sites in the Mexican mountains. There some environmental cue at the overwintering site would trigger the onset of full "hibernation" (reproductive diapause), which suspends normal activity and stops reproduction until the unfavorable environmental conditions (freezing winters in the U.S.) are gone.

This September/October will be the third season of my experiments that prove that one particular environmental cue triggers the onset of full "hibernation" (reproductive diapause) in migratory Monarch butterflies. Previously fall migrating Monarchs were thought to be in full "hibernation" (reproductive diapause) from the start, but recently have been shown to actually be in a state of partial "hibernation" (called oligopause). My research shows that  a two-step "hibernation" (diapause) exists and identifies a key environmental "trigger" that induces full "hibernation" (reproductive diapause) in migratory Monarchs. Understanding this "hibernation (diapause) trigger" which occurs at the overwintering sites is essential to protecting the migration cycle from ever warming temperatures and allows us the know when the sites might become unusable for the migration cycle (and what alternate sites have appropriate conditions).

These are simple experiments using a bio-assay for "hibernation" (true reproductive diapause) that requires a few dozen wild-captured migrant Monarchs from the northern part of the Mid-West (Central Flyway) and the North-East (Eastern Coastal Flyway). It also requires minimal travel, per diem and shipping, as well as some basic lab equipment costs (digital devices, cages, nectar substitute, etc.). I plan on publishing this study in the late spring.

So if you care about protecting the Monarch migration with important new knowledge and scientific information, please make a small contribution to our efforts and plant more milkweed. Thanks for caring!

Cost Breakdown:

For~75-100 wild Migrant Monarchs captured by the California co-ordinator of Overwintering Colonies/entomology expert -$1,350
Includes
      -round trip airfare Sacramento to Minneapolis  Aug. 9-13- $350
     -rental car & gas: $350
     -5 nights in motels: $350
     -Consulting fee: $300

For Equipment
     -$950

Mike Rich

Donations

  • Patricia Haire 
    • $500 
    • 2 mos
  • Leon Derocher 
    • $100 
    • 3 mos
  • Bob Sachs 
    • $100 
    • 3 mos
  • Dennis Langlois 
    • $100 
    • 3 mos

Organizer 

Mike Rich 
Organizer
Oviedo, FL
  • #1 fundraising platform

    People have raised more money on GoFundMe than anywhere else. Learn more

  • GoFundMe Guarantee

    In the rare case that something isn’t right, we will refund your donation. Learn more

  • Expert advice, 24/7

    Contact us with your questions and we’ll answer, day or night. Learn more