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Author’s program note.

As I write, in early October, the Monarch has just about finished its great conjuring trick for another year; rising, flying, gliding, dancing in its millions with sun beams as it hastens, like so many snow birds, on to Mexico and the warmth that sustains its kind. There are noticeably fewer of them this year when there were noticeably fewer of them than the year before. Deforestation and acutely diminished habitat have allied with the arid lands wrought by draught to extinguish their own colossal numbers. The millions which still migrate remind us of the millions more that migrate no longer. It is the first somber thought in a story, once glorious, now shadowed by sadness and growing woe.

This is the story of a Monarch once serene and puissant over continents, now beset at all sides by our human kind who venerate but destroy what it purports to love. It is a story that increasingly defines the pernicious business of man upon a planet we have learned too late is not ours alone or ours to sully.

Romulus Augustulus, the last emperor of Rome (d. 507); Moctezuma, the last emperor of the Aztecs (d. 1520); Ferdinand Maximilian, the last emperor of Mexico (d. 1867)…

Some of the saddest people in the history of our species are those born to rule, fated to command, but who in the event not only failed but failed completely, totally, catastrophically. We are drawn to such people who have had everything but ended their tragic lives with nothing. Such people remind us of the mutability of life, its whimsey, capriciousness… and the tragedy that lurks at our margins ready to change our lives forever; sovereigns no longer, just those crowned in irony, like Jesus himself.

Hark, the monarchs arrive!

Throughout history, monarchs, all monarchs, have known the value of a presentation which combines within itself a festival of sight, sound, even smells that proclaim the advent and then the presence of the All Highest. It is a matter of the first importance, and one which no monarch desiring a long and successful reign can ignore. And so for this article I give you ""Music for the Royal Fireworks," composed by George Frideric Handel in 1749. It celebrated the end of the War of the Austrian Succession and the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748. It, too, filled the sky with splendor.

This brilliant suite by an established master was worth the war (and its disappointing results). Go now to any search engine and find it. It pleased King George II of England, Handel’s august, happy and glorious master; it has since pleased a long procession of equally fastidious and gratified monarchs. Imagine it as the music signifying the advent, striking presence and inspiring arrival of the most durable of dynasties, Danaus plexippus, the great Monarch butterfly.

Its name.

The common name "Monarch" was first published by Samuel H. Scudder in 1874 because "it is one of the largest of our butterflies, and rules a vast domain." It is commonly thought that the name was applied in honor of King William III of England, whose elevation in 1688 secured the Protestant religion and its establishment. Thus the Monarch butterfly became the symbol of a sovereign successful in war, far seeing in peace; in short, the ideal monarch.

The Monarch was one of the many species originally named by Linnaeus in his "Systema Naturae" of 1758. It was first placed in the genus "Papilio". In 1780, Jan Krzysztof Kluk used the Monarch as the type species for a new genus: Danaus, a great-grandson of the king of the gods of Olympus, Zeus. He was a mythical king of Egypt or Libya, who founded Argos. "Plexippus" was one of the fifty sons of Aegyptus, the twin brother of Danaus. In short, royalty in all its aspects was his metier and pressing business.

Its taxonomy.

The Monarch is closely related to two very similar species which formed the Danaus subgenus before 2005. The first is the Jamaican monarch. The second is the southern monarch of South America south of the Amazon river. The southern monarch is almost indistinguishable from the Monarch as an adult, though the pupae are somewhat different; it is often considered a subspecies of the Monarch proper.

However, recent DNA analysis makes the fact clear that the Monarch and southern monarch are quite distinct from each other. Monarchs value such findings; after all successions to the throne and who rules (or who doesn’t rule) a kingdom is often the result of a slight genealogical advantage and the (almost) inevitable war that was necessary to ensure the desired result.

Its range.

Monarch butterflies reign over a domain larger, far larger, than Rome’s empire at its height. It ranges from east of the Rocky Mountains to the Mariposa Monarca Biosphere Reserve within the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt in the Mexican states of Michocan and Mexico. The western population overwinters in various sites in central coastal and southern California, notably in Santa Cruz, and Grove Beach. Monarchs understand that a territory unvisited is a territory lost to someone else. Thus each year, they undertake what earlier sovereigns called "a progress", that is descending en masse on the land of a valued member of the Court; "honored" to become bankrupt entertaining the king. The monarch’s mere motion is considered a command; noblesse oblige.

Its greatest achievement.

Even school children know what the Monarch is renowned for… flying some 2500 miles in the autumn….. flying some 2500 miles in the spring. Everything about this audacious migration interests us. Why do they do it; how do they know when to do it; how do they stay in the sky so long; how do they know where to go and why do they, without the gadgets of mankind, unerringly find their way? And we want to know, too, why predators, birds for instance, don’t turn so many flying kings into a mash fit for them? Like I said, everything about these graceful flyers interests us. Here are some answers and some queries yet unresolved.

What causes millions of these insects, so popular with the public that at least five states (including Alabama, Idaho, Minnesota, Texas and Vermont) have adopted it as the state insect? Scientists do not know thus leaving each to forward his own as yet unproven hypothesis: sun angles, or visual cues such as coast-and-ridge-lines, or an internal magnetic compass. But these are unproven assertions, not fact; that the monarchs keep secret in their genetic code. It is the "secrete du roi" and, for now it remains so.

But there is one thing we do know about the Monarch; it is a thing the monarchs themselves wish to have disseminated as widely as possible, namely that they have certain protection against predators like birds. When monarchs reach the southern, warmer climes, they lay their many eggs on milkweed plants, then die. When the eggs hatch, the caterpillars feed on the milkweed, ingesting nourishment and, equally important, milkweed toxins which do a nasty job on a bird’s stomach. If they make that mistake once, no bird ever makes it again. Monarchs think it a courtesy to predatory birds et al to get this intelligence out… and now they have. Unfortunately they have no such remedy for man and his depredations, depredations which are destroying everybody’s habitat, Earth.

A boy remembers.

When I was growing up in Illinois over 6 decades ago, I’d take a break from mowing the yard on a hot and sticky day to watch the perfection of the Monarchs as they wafted from plant to plant, always the masters of grace and grandeur. It grieves me more than I can say to watch them dying by inches before our eyes, instead of flying high, coloring the sky and making us happy, glad such a thing of enchantment and magnificence, sublime, exists…. but for how long, how long? We want the great Monarch to pass — over head, not into history as a beautiful thing that was but is no longer because of our negligence.

About the Author

Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Services include home business training, affiliate marketing training, earn-at-home programs, traffic tools, advertising, webcasting, hosting, design, WordPress Blogs and more. Find out why Worldprofit is considered the # 1 online Home Business Training program by getting a free Associate Membership today. Republished with author’s permission by Centra Lambert

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