It’s the time of year when monarch butterflies undertake their migration from the northern US and Canada to California and Mexico. They can travel up to 4,000 kilometers in search of warmer temperatures for the winter months – that’s quite some distance! Find out more about the monarch butterfly fall migration below.
Monarch Butterfly Migration
What Type of Monarch Butterfly Migrates During the Fall?
Recently listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, it’s the migratory monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), a subspecies of the monarch butterfly, that migrates each fall. Find out more about the migratory monarch butterfly and the threats they face.
The Super Generation of Monarchs
Not all generations of monarchs are built the same! When you dive deeper into migratory monarchs and the distance they travel into the great unknown, you realise how incredible they really are.
Monarch butterflies that make the fall migration will have never made this journey before. They are the ‘super generation’. This super generation of monarchs are different to all other monarchs:
- They live 8 times longer (up to 9 months)
- They travel 10 times farther
- They wait longer to reproduce
To be able to make this journey, they store fat in both the caterpillar and butterfly stages and wait until spring to mate.
Monarch Fall Migration Facts
What Starts Their Migration?
Their migration is triggered by:
- Shorter day lengths
- Lower temperatures
- Aging milkweed
However, tropical storms can affect their schedules.
Migratory monarchs travel around 50 miles each day. According to Journey North, they’re capable of travelling 170 miles in a single day. In total, they can travel up to 4,000 kilometers to get to their overwintering sites.
Air Currents Offer a Helping Hand
Strong winds can be a problem for migrating monarchs, pushing them in the wrong direction. On the other hand, thermal air currents can be a real asset, helping to carry them along. These air currents can cause monarchs to fly a mile high above ground.
During their migration, they’ll often group together in large numbers to find shelter from bad weather or for a resting point at night, which can create amazing displays to behold.
How Do They Know Where To Go?
The question remains: if they’ve never made this journey before, how do they know where to go and how to get there?
This is still something of a mystery. It’s believed that they use the position of the sun as a guide combined with their internal clock. This still doesn’t explain how they end up in the same place each year, when they’ve never travelled there before. Perhaps science will one day provide a definitive answer, or perhaps we’ll never know!
The more you learn about monarch butterflies, the more fascinating they become! We’re in awe of these wonderful pollinators, which is why we’ve got designs dedicated to the mighty monarchs! For every item purchased, we’ll fund the planting of 10 trees and donate 10% to environmental nonprofits, including Pollinator Partnership. Help to support the monarchs today – shop now.