Monarch remigration, book festival, and breakfast tacos

I recently returned from a spring trip to the Austin, TX area in search of re-migrating monarch butterflies: 8-month old animals weighing less than a dollar bill, that had traveled for thousands of miles, rested in Mexico for 5 months, and crossed the border again.  A postdoc in the lab, Patty Jones, joined for the trip, which auspiciously started with many looks and questions at the Syracuse airport.  We were travelling with common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and green antelope horns (Asclepias viridis).   Without getting into all the details, we were interested in monarch oviposition preferences and performance of the caterpillars on these two plant species, as antelope horns is the main host in their first generation in the Gulf States and common milkweed is their main host for generations 2-4 later in the summer.

Two flats of milkweeds for carry-on
Asclepias asperula with Oncopeltus
Spectacular meadow outside of Austin with abundant milkweed. This ranch is being managed for quail hunting.  Great for the plants!

The main barriers to getting there, however, were tremendous storms in Atlanta.  To make a long story short — All flights canceled for several days, so Patty and I drove the nearly 1000 miles.  We saw one monarch and some milkweed somewhere between Alabama and Texas, but it is mostly a blur.

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The drive.
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A nasty Texas native, Cnidoscolus stimulosus, commonly called bull nettle or finger rot.  This plant is spiny and latexy, in the Euphorbiaceae.

In Austin, we were met by Larry Gilbert, a friend and mentor for both of us (although we interacted with him decades apart).   Larry is a consummate naturalist and conceptually minded evolutionary ecologist at the Univ. Texas.  After some breakfast tacos we hit the field.  Not surprisingly, Larry effortlessly caught the one and only female we caught over the next two days (a faded and scaleless butterfly, likely from Mexico).  Patty caught another 6 butterflies, all males!  We were generously hosted by a private ranch, in addition to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and Cibolo Nature Center.

We put our one and only female to the test
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Birthday breakfast with Patty and Larry Gilbert
San Antonio Book Festival
San Antonio Book Festival

The weekend ended with a presentation at the San Antonio Book festival.  Attendance was good and we sold out the 35 copies that they had on hand!  Many thanks to my amazing host, Monika Maeckle who made it all happen!  And I got to hear Ann Patchett who spoke about feeling her power as an influential author and Amor Towles who taught us some Soviet history.

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Anurag with Monika Maeckle, SA Bookfest via Twitter


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