Remembering Biologist Lincoln Brower, Advocate for the Monarch Butterfly

By Carol Hinz, Editorial Director of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books

Have you spotted any monarch caterpillars or butterflies lately? We currently have three chrysalides at my house hanging from the top of a mesh butterfly habitat, and one rapidly-growing caterpillar who has been munching through milkweed leaves harvested from our backyard.

They’ve been on author Rebecca Hirsh’s mind as well. She wrote The Monarchs Are Missing, which we released this past spring, and after she heard the news that monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower had passed away, she shared this remembrance.

Rebecca Hirsch on Dr. Lincoln Brower

Dr. Lincoln Brower died on Tuesday, July 17, 2018. He was eighty-six years old. Dr. Brower was a renowned biologist who had dedicated his life to the study and conservation of the monarch butterfly.

Early in his career, he helped show how monarchs ate poisonous milkweeds and incorporated the poisons into their bodies, making them poisonous to birds. His studies helped launch a new field, known as ecological chemistry. Later in life, he dedicated himself to studying and preserving the Mexican forests where monarchs spend the winter.

I was fortunate to talk with Dr. Brower while researching The Monarchs Are Missing: A Butterfly Mystery. We talked at length about monarchs and their conversation. I found him to be well-informed, generous, supportive, opinionated, intellectually curious, and fiercely dedicated to monarch conservation. In remembrance, I wanted to share a story.

cover of The Monarchs Are Missing, which features the work of Dr. Lincoln Brower

In The Monarchs Are Missing: A Butterfly Mystery, I tell the story of how Dr. Fred Urquhart discovered the remote Mexican location where eastern monarchs spend the winter. He announced the discovery in 1976 in an article in National Geographic. But Dr. Urquhart refused to reveal the location to anyone, including an eminent scientist like Dr. Brower.

spread from The Monarchs Are Missing, which features the work of Dr. Lincoln Brower
Interior spread from The Monarchs Are Missing

Dr. Brower began scheming about how he might discover the location for himself. He teamed up with a young scientist, Dr. Bill Calvert, to solve the mystery. They followed clues that Urquhart had left in his articles. They pored over maps of Mexico. In 1977 they located a monarch colony. During our talk, Brower described for me his first visit to the colony.

Visiting the monarch forests

“I had no idea what I was about to see,” he told me. “Suddenly the color of the forest changed from green to gray and I realized I was looking at a wall of monarch butterflies in front of me on the trees.” He was seeing millions of monarchs roosting on the trees, their wings folded closed and revealing a grayish underside.

“It just went right through my mind instantaneously,” he continued, “that this whole system is endangered because of logging. We had actually gotten into the area where the butterflies were by driving on some heavily rutted, rocky logging roads.

“The irony is that I probably wouldn’t have been able to get to see these butterflies if there hadn’t been these logging roads there.”

Dr. Brower returned to the monarch forests fifty times. He spent the rest of his life studying the forests, working with Mexican groups and the Mexican government to preserve them as sanctuaries, and teaching others about the importance of the forests in monarch conservation.

Learn more

You can read a remembrance of Lincoln Brower at Journey North here.  

For more about author Rebecca Hirsch, check out this Q&A and a behind-the-scenes story about the creative process for The Monarchs Are Missing here.

The Monarchs Are Missing is available through and all major distributors.

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