Monarch observation stats

Below are Monarch stats from iNaturalist for theEastern United States. I excluded stats from out west, because California has its own totally separate population. Of course that leaves Texas off of these stats, so here they are from Jan 1st 2020 until today: 19,798 observations by 5472 observers.

Eastern United States: Since the inception of iNaturalist, Monarch butterflies are the 3rd most observed/recorded species east of the Mississippi.
This shows that for iNaturalist users, Monarchs are very high on their priority list for preferred species to record (101,352 observations by 33,743 observers).

That said, so far in 2023, again in the Eastern United States, Monarchs have been recorded 737 times by 449 observers. Those numbers are relatively similar for Monarch observation stats for this time period in the previous three years, although the total of 737 observations is a little higher, and perhaps because of me . . . here’s why: So far in 2023 in the Eastern United states I have recorded 91 Monarch observations on 38 different total days combined. The second highest number of observations is 9, which means no one else in the Eastern United States has recorded Monarchs on more than 9 different days in 2023, less than ¼ as many days as me.

2020 Jan 1st through April 10th 439 observers made 656 observations of Monarchs (most was 55).
2021 Jan 1st through April 10th 399 observers made 560 observations of Monarchs (most was 10).
2022 Jan 1st through April 10th 462 observers made 723 observations of Monarchs (most was 35).
2023 Jan 1st through April 10th 449 observers made 737 observations of Monarchs (most was 91, me).

Of note: First of all, I do not travel to other locations hoping to boost my numbers. All of my observations have come on one property. Second of all, I have been very careful to not bloat my numbers by photographing the same Monarch multiple times. I only post Monarchs that I know are individual specimens seen in a short period of time, but also try to post the first and last I see on most days. My numbers could very easily be ten times higher than the fairly conservative number of posts I have made.

I don’t know exactly what all this signifies, and in fact find it very difficult to wrap my head around it. I have not done very much (yet) to alter the property to attract more Monarchs, but I have done a few things and have learned some valuable lessons in my close observations of the Monarch butterflies here. The most significant is how I have witnessed the males cruising an area where nectar sources are good, waiting for a female to come along. The males do of course stop and feed some, but spend far more time cruising the area than they do feeding.

Now, going back to what I started with, if Monarchs appear to be such a high priority for iNaturalist users (since January 1st, 2020 they are still the 5th most posted observation!), why am I so dominating the recording of the species this year, especially since I am only recoding on one fairly small property (less than eight acres that isn’t heavily wooded swamp, pond, heavily forested, or buildings)???

Furthermore, since migrating Monarchs went on the endangered species list just last year, you would think that more iNat users would be making them a higher priority observation to post.

Thoughts?

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I’m in west central Michigan, with farms all around. Especially directly across the road.
2021 pumpkins were grown. Jack-o-lantern pumpkins. I find them abhorrent. To grow these they use chemicals as pre-emergent herbicides and pesticides. Squashes are also prone to fungal infections. More chemicals. Then they brought in western honey bee hives to pollinate. Maybe because of the insecticide they used?
The roadsides are abundant, and infrequently mowed. I try to keep an eye on the milkweed for caterpillars to rescue and rehome right before the mow.
There were NO caterpillars. No monarchs, no moths.
2022 asparagus was planted. It will be the crop there for 5-10 years. They do use chemicals as does ALL crops. ALL fruit, ALL vegetables.
The milkweed crop along the roadside and in my backyard was stunted, malformed flowers.
I saw a monarch or two for a few days, no eggs, no caterpillars. Same with the moths.
I think the food system in America is so unbelievably flawed, and behind a great deal of all sorts of poisonous disasters.

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It’s still cold most nights here, and I don’t usually see many monarchs until the summer, so folks in my area haven’t had many photo ops yet. Also, I don’t bother to post observations of the same species multiple times, unless I get a really excellent photo, or record interesting behavior, or find one somewhere unusual. Now if only I could document a monarch caterpillar eating milkvine…

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I’ve had this question about a couple of species, regarding myself, namely feral pigeons, European starlings, common birds like that. But, you reverse-answered that question with this:

Because for my stuff, they’re overwhelmingly common and extremely well populated, so I think people often ignore them because we all pretty much know they will be at most places at most times.

To bring it full circle, monarchs aren’t as common as we’d like, but they’re very recognizable and most people are familiar with them, so I think that might lead to people not observing them as much since they know what it is already. That’s with me considering a lot of the users who aren’t super active, because I know a lot of people starting out on the site will prioritize things unfamiliar to them so they can use the CV to figure out what something is. But that works the other way around too where new users maybe want to document something familiar to them… Surely to some extent since they’re highly observed in general. I dunno. Guess I’m just shooting ideas out there with no real answer. There’s a lot to think about and a lot that could be relevant, I guess, is what my point maybe is.

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I greatly appreciate the feedback, but I still see an unexplained situation here. 1. It is the #3 recorded species worldwide, #2 for the US, and #3 in Eastern US but I am sure is not seen anywhere near as often as the common things that folks skip over because they are so common. 2. There are many people who are almost fanatical about Monarchs, raising them, and planting for them. How many folks are that dedicated to or consumed by feral pigeons, European Starlings, etc.??? In my opinion no comparison, especially after getting added to the endangered species list. In short, Monarchs are nowhere near as abundant or as easily found and photographed as many other butterflies/insects/animals, and yet they are one of the most frequently recorded organisms on iNaturalist . . . because THEY ARE so popular. So why does it appear that so few are getting recorded in the first four months in the deep south? I can’t imagine that it is because I at an extraordinarily special property. Don’t look at my total Monarch posts, but consider how I have recorded them on around forty individual days this year . . . . and I am not a Monarch fanatic.

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I’m interested in your question as well since the answer might help us understand trends on iNat. So I dug around a bit. Down South in Mexico there is a fellow who has observed nearly as many Monarchs as you, and out in California there is another person who has observed more than twice as many as you. I’m a fairly obsessive iNatter and I live in Monarch overwintering country. I see them all the time but I only have two observations and neither are from where I live. My guess is that folks approach iNaturalist with many different mindsets or different questions we want answered. I think you and the Mexican and Californian iNatters might be approaching iNaturalist with a similar mindset. You could ask me, “Since monarchs are endangered, why don’t you document every one you see?” Maybe because I’m more into biogeography? I like to know what is found where and why. And I especially like observing things at their boundaries. And wondering why something doesn’t show up on iNat when it should. But I don’t think my mindset is especially common. Designing a good survey to get at different “whys” folks have for using iNat would be so interesting, and I’ll bet the “whys” would surprise a lot of us!

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