The Mighty Monarch Butterfly Migration
Each winter, as the temperatures drop in the north, the Monarch butterflies migrate south to the warmer climates of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. No bad for an insect that weighs less than a gram. Generally, birds fly south for the winter, but the Monarch does manages up to 12 mph over a journey as long as 3,100 miles (nearly 5,000 km).
What’s particularly astonishing about the Monarch migration, is that not one single butterfly succeeds in a full migration due to their short life span. It generally takes three or four generations of Monarch butterflies to complete a full migration cycle (to the southern Monarch sanctuary and back). It’s simply a pattern that’s engrained in the butterfly’s genetic code to instinctively know where to go.
The Monarch migration generally starts around October. If temperatures drop earlier, then the butterflies will go south, travelling about 50 miles in a single day. The Rocky Mountains appear to be the dividing line that helps determine where the Monarch migrates—if they’re east, they go to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in the Mexican state of Michoacán; and if they’re west, they go to Southern California, most notably around Santa Cruz. When they arrive at their destination, the butterflies tend to use the same trees each year to roost, huddling together for warmth, which makes for a truly bizarre and wonderful experience to observe.
This migratory test of endurance proves unsuccessful for many of the Monarchs as they succumb to fatigue and the dangers of storms and passing cars. Despite this, it is believed that as many as 300 million of the orange and black butterflies successfully migrate to their over-wintering lands in the south. The exact path they take is still being studied and plotted, but as there’s no mass exodus filling the skies, the only real spot to enjoy the migration is at their winter roosts nearly two miles (2,400 to 3,600 meters) above sea level.
When to Go to Monarch Butterfly Migration
Odds n' Ends
The 200 square mile Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. Only some areas within the Reserve are open to the public.
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