How the Monarch Butterfly Conquered the World: Sometimes Humans Do Good Things Too
By Heath Shive
Things look bleak for the Monarch butterfly. Or...are they?
The overwintering population of monarch butterflies is largest in Mexico - but it's not really large, only about 3 hectares (7.5 acres) in 2017. Hundreds of millions of monarchs are crowded in there - which was a bad thing in 2017 when a winter storm came through and destroyed 27% of the monarchs.
But there are other overwintering havens for the monarchs, like the Monarch Grove Sanctuary in California - where disturbing the butterflies carries a $1,000 fine.
Monarchs need specific trees to use for their "hibernation," and the Monterrey Pine (Pinus radiata) is the most important tree in Monarch Grove - which is bad news, because the pine's numbers are dwindling from climate change.
So bad news, right? The monarchs and Monterrey pines are done for, right?
They are flourishing in growing numbers....just not here in the United States!
To the science and story of how monarchs invaded the world!
According to Te Ara - the official online encyclopedia of New Zealand - the Monterrey pine was brought to New Zealand in 1850s in a forestry experiment. Today in New Zealand, 89% of New Zealand's forestry plantations (1.6 million hectares) is comprised of radiata trees!
In fact, the radiata pine is world's most successful softwood plantation tree and is grown successfully in Chile, Argentina, South Africa, and elsewhere- just not in California!
So if only monarchs could find a home in New Zealand, right?
Well, monarchs are alive and well in New Zealand...and Australia. And New Guinea. And around the world!
Monarch butterflies apparently made their way into Australasia around the mid-1800s. How they did this is anyone's guess! But there were no quarantines in those days, and international trade and immigration were alive and well.
Of course, invading species cannot just survive anywhere - they need the right conditions. And monarchs need milkweed. There are native Australian and Kiwi milkweeds, but the monarchs don't like them.
Instead, the monarch colonists loved the 2 species of non-native milkweeds! The Gomphocarpus species (from Africa) and the Asclepias species from the Caribbean!
In other words, the monarch colonists succeeded in Australia and New Zealand because of 2 previous "invasive" species - and now there are also Monterrey pines by the millions in these countries for the monarch to winter on!
The Bittersweet Story of Evolution
In 2017, biologist Chris Thomas wrote a great book Inheritors of the Earth.
Thomas reminds us that humans are natural - and thus human effects on the planet are natural too.
This is the Anthropocene Era in planetary history, and humans are the dominant evolutionary driving force on earth.
This forces millions of species to adapt to us - and they do!
Birds (like pigeons) and mammals (like rodents) have adapted to thrive with urbanization. We chopped down forests for fields, but fields now support prairie and meadow bird species. Vast herds of cattle create prairie ecosystems, as the bison did before.
Many species are disappearing - but many more are adapting because their survival depends on it. And the species we call weeds (like milkweed or teasels) or invasive animals (like starlings and Asian carp) are just really good at surviving.
Monarchs are not surviving very well here in North America. Their numbers are dwindling.
But monarchs are growing, multiplying, and thriving in Australia and New Zealand!
And in Spain, New Guinea, and Morocco.
And that is why the monarch butterfly is one of the most successful butterfly species in the world!
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Berg, P., 'Radiata Pine', Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand; https://teara.govt.nz/en. Accessed 16 June 2019
"Eastern Monarch Population Numbers Drop 27%". News. The Monarch Joint Venture. 16 February 2017. Archived from the original on 5 June 2017. Retrieved 16 June 2019
Jones, Ann. "Flying Weeds: how the monarch butterfly colonised Australia". ABC News. 14 September 2015. https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/offtrack/flying-weeds:-how-the-monarch-butterfly-colonised-australia/6768228. Accessed 16 June 2019
Obama, President Barack (20 June 2014). "Presidential Memorandum – Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators". Office of the Press Secretary. Washington, D.C.: The White House. Retrieved 16 June 2019
Thomas, Chris D. Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction. PublicAffairs, Hachette Book Group, 2017
The Peak-End Rule: How to Conquer Any Bad Day (Or Even a Colonoscopy)
By Heath Shive
It doesn't matter how a day starts, it only matters how the day ends.
In an episode of The Office – entitled “Diversity Day” (Season 1, Ep. 2) – the character Jim is unable to close a very important sale because of his boss Michael Scott’s obnoxious handling of a sensitivity seminar.
Jim loses his sale…to his office rival Dwight! It’s an awful defeat for Jim.
But by the end of the working day, Pam (Jim's love interest) falls asleep on his shoulder. Jim is spellbound.
Jim concludes to the camera that it was “not a bad day.”
What does this have to do with bad days and colonoscopies?
They all used the peak-end rule of psychology.
To the science!
The Peak-End Rule
The peak-end rule was coined by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Barbara Fredrickson, and it is about how we summarize an experience.
How we remember an experience boils down to 2 criteria: (1) how the experience feels at its peak, whether at its best or worst, and (2) how the experience ended.
Barry Schwartz – author of the fantastic book The Paradox of Choice - cites a lab study where participants were asked to listen to two terribly loud noises.
The first noise was awful, but lasted only 8 seconds.
The second noise was the same as the first and also lasted 8 seconds…but it was followed by another 8 seconds of unpleasant noise that wasn’t as loud.
The vast majority of the participants chose the second noise – despite the fact that it was unpleasant as the first, and also twice as long (16 seconds vs. 8 seconds).
How does that make sense?
They’re both terrible to hear, and the second noise was twice as long.
But the participants preferred the second noise because of the “peak-end” rule.
Both the first and second noise had the same “peak” of awfulness…but the second noise ended with a noise that wasn’t nearly as bad.
Therefore, the second noise was judged better.
A Not-So-Bad Colonoscopy
A colonoscopy is a notoriously unpleasant experience. In the described study, two groups were given a colonoscopy.
Daniel Kahneman, Joel Katz, and Donald Redelmeier performed lab study with colonoscopies to examine the peak-end rule.
One group’s procedure was standard. The second group’s procedure was different.
In the second group, after the colonoscopy was finished, the scope was left inside – unmoving – for 20 additional seconds. Unmoving, the probe was not as unpleasant as a moving probe.
The second group rated their experience slightly better than the first group did.
Both groups had the same bad colonoscopy, but the second group had a milder ending.
Why We Need Fairy Tale Endings and Dessert
The peak-end rule is basically telling us that it doesn’t matter how something starts, it’s the ending that is more important.
Our brains aren’t rational computers. Our brains are slimy bags of instincts. So play to your instinct.
There's a rule to life here.
Jim’s day was "not a bad day” after Pam slept on his shoulder.
If you squeeze an orange too hard, the juice turns bitter. Stay at a party too long, and you'll leave bored. We end a meal with a dessert, not...brussel sprouts.
Keep in mind the happy ending!
Having a bad day?
Put something you love at the end of the day.
A hot bath. A basket of chicken wings. A bowl of ice cream. Watch a movie with someone you care about or read a beautiful story to your children before they go to bed.
And as you read to your kids, note that the story has a happy ending.
We love happy endings. It’s our instinct. It’s called the peak-end rule.
Kahneman, Daniel; Fredrickson, Barbara L.; Schreiber, Charles A.; Redelmeier, Donald A. (1993). "When More Pain Is Preferred to Less: Adding a Better End". Psychological Science. 4(6): 401–405.
Redelmeier, Donald A; Katz, Joel; Kahneman, Daniel (2003). "Memories of colonoscopy: a randomized trial". Pain. 104 (1-2): 187–194.
Schwartz, Barry. The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less. New York: Harper Perennial, 2004.
There’s Someone for Everyone: The Science!
By Heath Shive
“Men are all ….”
“Women are just …”
These sentences never end well.
When genders start going to war with each other, both men and women have a tendency to reduce each other to stereotypes.
But here's the good news! Both men and women are (mostly) wrong!
To the science!
What Women Think About Men
In 2009, psychologist Glenn Geher performed a study on “the ability to assess the mating desires of the opposite sex.”
A successful romantic strategy requires that you read the thoughts and feelings of potential mates.
So Geher designed a fairly large study – nearly 500 young men and women – to get some data.
In the study, women were asked to predict who men would choose for a short-term relationship from a list of 3 theoretical females.
This list (abbreviated) is as follows:
A. “Who said chivalry was dead? Open doors for me…I will make your favorite sandwich when you wake up hungry in the night.”
B. “I am looking for a fling of epic proportions…Human beings are not meant to be paired for life, like lobsters.”
C. “I know all the words to Grease…I am looking for someone who can make my heart sing.”
The majority (53%) of the study's women predicted men would choose option B – i.e., the “fling” lady.
But as it turns out, the majority of the study’s men (54%) chose the “chivalry” lady from option A!
Only 24% of men chose the fling in option B.
And surprisingly enough, 22% of the men wanted the "musical" lady option C!
Women had a tendency to oversexualize men’s choices.
What Men Think About Women
In the study, men were asked to predict who women would choose for a short-term relationship from a list of 3 theoretical males.
The list is as follows:
A. “I’m pretty busy working all week, but that doesn’t stop me from having fun, usually out and about a couple nights during the week…”
B. “I’ve been described as a very energetic individual…I’m a man in a uniform looking for some fun.”
C. "I’m spontaneous and I like to try new things. I enjoy diversity, cultures, art…good food and intelligent conversation.”
Almost half of the study's men (49%) predicted that women would choose option B – the man in uniform.
But instead, almost half of the women (48%) chose option C – the diversity and arts man!
Only 29% of the women chose the very masculine man in uniform (B). And surprisingly enough, 23% of the women chose the fairly ordinary guy in option A!
Men had a tendency to oversexualize women’s choices.
So both men and women had a tendency to reduce the opposite gender's decisions to stereotypes.
But look at the numbers again.
Even though the musical lady was the least picked option, still at least 1 in 5 men wanted to date her!
Even though the “ordinary” guy was the least picked option, still about 1 in 5 women wanted to date him!
You do not have to be the most popular option to be chosen!
Given the billions of men and women in the world – and the myriad varieties of desires in that mad tumble – you can afford to be optimistic.
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Geher, Glenn, and Kaufman, Scott Barry. Mating Intelligence Unleashed: The Role of the Mind in Sex, Dating, and Love. Oxford University Press, 2013.
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Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.