Books Crime, Thriller, Mysteries and Puzzles Genre Lifespan of a Reader Middle Grade Nonfiction Picture Books Reading Themes

[Nonfiction Wednesday] The Monarchs Are Missing: A Butterfly Mystery

The migration of monarch butterflies baffled scientists for a very long time.


Fats here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2018 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year, when we can.


I was delighted when I found a copy of Rebecca E. Hirsch’s The Monarchs Are Missing: A Butterfly Mystery when we launched our current theme. Check out the book below!


Written by Rebecca E. Hirsch
Published by Milbrook Press (2018)
ISBN-13: 978-1512452501
A Junior Library Guild (JLG) Selection
Copy provided by Wayne County Public Library.

Mystery #1: The Monarch Migration

In Rebecca E. Hirsch’s book, readers will learn about the life of monarch butterflies, particularly their migration pattern. The migration of monarch butterflies baffled scientists for a very long time. Where did these monarchs come from and where did their migration end?

“It’s like detective work. We’re… trying to figure out what’s going on.”
— Elise Zipkin, a Michigan State University biologist who studies monarch butterflies

It was Canadian scientist Fred Urquhart who figured out a method of tagging monarch butterflies that would work. He and his wife Norah used a tag similar to the price stickers used in grocery stores.  Because they were observing migration, it would have been hard to track the butterflies. Fred and Norah enlisted the help of the public to tag the monarchs.

Here’s an interesting fact I learned in the first few pages of the book: Milkweed contains poisons, and most animals won’t eat it. But the monarch caterpillar thrives on it. The caterpillar collects the poisons in its body, and so it too becomes poisonous to many predator. The poisons will remain in its body when it becomes a butterfly.

NGS Picture ID:1353541
A cluster of monarchs. Photo taken from Nat Geo Education Blog.

Mystery # 2: The Missing Monarchs

Because counting monarch butterflies is such an impossible feat, scientists measure the are of their colonies. Monarchs tend to cluster together in trees (as shown in the picture above). It was fascinating to learn that their highest record was 45 acres, which is equivalent to about 34 football fields! This value was recorded in 1997.

In 2014, the colonies dropped to 1.7 acres. The book discusses the different factors that could explain the drastic decline in colonies such as climate change, deadlier winter forests, drought, and herbicides that are harming the milkweeds.

“One hopeful thing about monarchs is that they have the ability to bounce back with big numbers.” — p. 37

The Monarchs Are Missing is a great and valuable resource about monarch migration. This book helps spread the word about what is happening to monarch butterflies. Although it has a lot of text, the book comes with pictures that aid in understanding what was being talked about in a certain page. In addition to a Glossary, Rebecca Hirsch provided titles for further reading, a list of websites for people who are interested in becoming citizen scientists, as well as resources on how to plant a butterfly garden.

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2 comments on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] The Monarchs Are Missing: A Butterfly Mystery

  1. lindabaie

    I did know about the milkweed & the protection it gives to the monarchs, but my fun question is “how did they first know?” It is of interest to read a book like this that covers a stretch of time & the changes happening, and also like this, alarming. Thanks, Fats!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: [Nonfiction Wednesday] The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: A Scientific Mystery – Gathering Books

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