Is the Monarch a native?

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  • #36682

    Jacqui
    Moderator

    Well, firstly, from what I gather the scientists can only gauge what was written in diaries to know when the first Monarch got here. Some of the references I’ve read say that a diary(?) recorded a large orange butterfly being seen in the Hawkes Bay in 1841 I think – but there weren’t many people using written language in NZ earlier than that.

    The swan plant is from Africa and we know that many indigenous people in Africa used the kapok-like filaments for various purposes pre-European settlement. It is probable that when the settlers arrived in Africa they picked up on this (similar to how NZ harakeke got named ‘flax’ – story below) as we know it then got used in pillows, comforters, eiderdowns and even life jackets. I know the buoyancy of the American milkweeds is superior to kapok.

    So it is quite possible that that is how the swan plant got to Australia and NZ: settlers, whalers etc picking up garments, furnishings of life jackets in Africa and later dumping them in Australia and NZ when they had passed their useful life. But it is difficult to gauge when that actually happened. Once the plant arrived, however, the Monarch could breed in these countries.

    But who knows for sure when the Monarch first arrived here – or the plant first arrived here…

    Regarding flax, the European settlers wanted to make durable clothing etc using the fibres of ‘flax’ (Linum usitatissimum) (from whence linen gets its name) but of course it wasn’t growing here. They found that the Maori people created hardworking garments, furnishings etc using Phormium tenax or Harakeke, so renamed it ‘flax’. Interesting: the word ‘line’ comes from the use of a linen thread to determine a straight line!

    #36681

    David
    Participant

    The part of this question that troubles me is how did ‘swan plant’ arrive in New Zealand at the same time as the butterflies ‘flew’ in?

    #36608

    Jacqui
    Moderator

    Yes, it’s an excellent book. More information here:

    https://www.monarch.org.nz/items-for-sale/george-gibbs-the-monarch-butterfly/

    #36606

    NormTwigge
    Participant

    As an addition, I would thoroughly recommend the book mentioned below to anyone raising monarchs, or even just interested in their life history. MBNZT has it available.

    #36600

    NormTwigge
    Participant

    The definition of exotic is “originating from another part of the world and not native”. With plants in NZ the most commonly accepted definition of “native” is “a plant that grew here before European settlement”. Until recently the hypothesis was that the monarch found its own way to New Zealand, based on chronological sightings involving island hopping across the Pacific, and finally to NZ, therefore assuming it arrived here without human assistance. New research and DNA by M. Zalucki suggests that the Australian populations were cyclonic carried from Vanuatu/New Caledonia, and NZ populations extended from these. There is some evidence that Vanuatu/New Caledonia monarchs were introduced by man, which puts the whole discussion in a different perspective, for if any flora/fauna is assisted by human intervention then the “natural” definition becomes invalid. In Australia the monarch is not regarded as natural, science only relies on fact and proof and in this situation there appears to be much speculation. I recommend reading the book “Monarch Butterfly in New Zealand” by George Gibbs, containing a section which deals with this very point. So until further research is carried out, the topic may be argued for some time.

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