Monarch butterflies

30 09 2011

This past weekend, I was sitting on a park bench in Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood (or The Beaches – some people seem to care strongly about this). I noticed a Monarch butterfly go by. “Cool,” I thought. Then I saw another one. And another. And two more. All of them were flying west. During the time I was there, I saw about 200 of them. What the?

I looked it up afterwards, and found out that Monarch butterflies migrate south for the winter – the only species of butterfly to do so. Starting in August, all Monarchs based east of the Rocky Mountains travel all the way to their winter home, which is a forest in Mexico. (Presumably, when they are travelling in this part of the world, they go west to get around Lake Ontario.)  This trip takes three or four generations of butterfly to accomplish – which leads to the question, “How do they know where to go?” Scientists haven’t figured that out yet; research indicates that the positions of the sun in the sky and the earth’s magnetic field serve to orient them.

I find this amazing. Butterflies don’t travel very fast, and it’s such a long way to go. No wonder the Monarch is now listed as a “near threatened” species. It seems like so much work.

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