Like Birds, Generations of Monarch Butterflies Make Great Journeys

by Rose Loos-Austin, age 12

The monarch butterfly has a cool way of escaping the bitter cold winter: migration.

In the late summer and early fall, North American monarchs, known as the wanderers, make a long grueling trip from Canada to as far south as Mexico. Monarchs are the only known butterflies to make two-way migrations like birds. But, no single butterfly makes the entire journey. In fact, it takes about four generations of monarchs to complete the trip.

To make the trek the butterflies swarm in great numbers. When the insects take off, they rise in dense, red clusters. At night they settle on oak, pine, fir, and cedar trees in forests along their route, tightly clumped together to stay warm. These “butterfly trees” are often chosen by monarchs each year, despite the fact that no adult monarch makes the trip twice.

Monarchs have incredible wing power. Although they are native to North America, monarchs have also been found 200 miles of the coast of England and in Asia and Australia. One hypothesis suggests they were carried by the wind. Traveling quickly, flying at speeds up to 20 miles per hour, these creatures are truly extraordinary.

Because monarchs are concentrated in so few places during the winter they are vulnerable to bad weather and humans that might destroy their habitats. This is one reason the monarchs are dwindling in number.

[Source: Life Nature Library: The Forest ]

It blew my mind that it takes four generations for the butterflies to make the trip. I hope we can protect these amazing creatures, there is still so much to learn about them. Did you know that one theory is that they may use the earth's magnetic field to navigate? – Ben , Madison (2014-05-31 11:58)