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Amazing Annual Monarch Butterfly Migrations
Monarch butterflies in other countries also migrate with the season, but it’s those in North America that travel the greatest distance. Each year, there are two major Monarch Butterfly migrations in North America. Those monarchs that live east of the Rocky Mountains fly down to Mexico, while the more western population stops in California. Monarchs do not like the cold, and as soon as things start to get a little chilly up north, they take off south (and west) for warmer climates.
The largest group travels over 1,250 miles from the Rocky Mountains to spend the winter in Michoacán, Mexico. The government of Mexico has managed to almost stamp out logging in the monarch’s wintering areas, a practice which once threatened the migrating insects. Working with environmental organizations and individuals, they have been encouraging communities to start eco-tourism enterprises by planting trees for the butterflies to nest. The monarch is a butterfly ruled by the sun. When the autumn sun reaches fifty two degrees above the horizon, the monarch reproduction cycle shuts down, and their great migration begins. When they begin their flight down to Mexico, they have never been there, yet every generation is able to find the exact same spot year after year where their previous ancestors spent the winter.
The second group travels from Ontario, Canado to spend their winters in Santa Cruz, California. You may wonder why the monarchs don’t simply stay and enjoy the warmer weather there year round. That’s because they need the milkweed plants on which their larvae feed, and those are more plentiful up north. So as soon as the weather starts to warm up, that’s where they return every year. Interestingly, not every generation of monarchs migrate. Some simply remain in their breeding ground. Those that do migrate are born at the end of summer or early autumn. Because of their trip to warmer climes, this special generation will outlive several younger generations that stay put. It will then be the migratory monarchs’ great grandchildren that follow the beat of their forebears’ wings.
in Ontario, Canada, in their summer home. It’s thought that the distinctive bright coloring of the monarchs acts as a warning to predators to stay away. Monarch butterflies are also poisonous and will make any animal that tries to eat them sick – hopefully sick enough not to try snacking on them a second time! The poison comes from the milkweed that they eat while they are caterpillars. This doesn’t always work, however. Certain bird species, for example, have learned that some parts of the butterflies are not as toxic, while other predators are resistant or immune to the poison altogether.
protection from a sandstorm in timbuktu, july 29, 2013. photo joe penney
— ~ Raul Gutierrez, “Lives I’ve Told My 3 Year Old Recently”