The next time you see a monarch butterfly flitting around your garden, pay some respect.
This orange and black butterfly is more than just another pretty face. It is the superman (or woman) of the insect world.
That becomes evident in the fall, when millions of monarchs begin their cross-country migration. It’s impressive enough when a duck or goose embarks on a long-distance fight. But a creature weighing just one half a gram? That’s hard to fathom.
- Monarchs can travel up to 3,000 miles in their migration from Canada to central Mexico, where they spend the winter.
- That can take up to two months to complete that journey.
- They know where they are going; they don’t just fly aimlessly. They seemingly have a built-in GPS system that sometimes brings them to the same exact trees that their ancestors used.
- Monarchs have amazing endurance. Researchers found that one tagged butterfly covered 265 miles in one day. It is not unusual for individuals to travel 50 to 100 miles a day.
- They can fly at speeds of 10 to 25 miles per hour.
- They can sense the change of seasons and know it’s time to fly south. They will often cover long distances by reaching altitudes as high as 11,000 feet and riding air currents or thermals, according to the website Good Nature Travel.
- It’s a one-way trip for the monarchs. It may take as many as four generations of monarchs before an individual flies north again in spring.
The monarchs usually peak in late September and early October in Missouri and Kansas, then they resume their migration.
Much has been said in recent years about the decline in the butterfly’s population. As with most wildlife experiencing largescale losses, much of that is due to habitat loss. Researchers estimate that almost 170 million acres of monarch habitat has been lost since the mid 1990s.
The milkweed plants the monarch depends on for both food and breeding are dwindling. Some researchers blame the use of herbicides in agricultural areas, deforestation, and weather events as possible causes. The good news is that many conservation organizations, all the way from grassroots local groups to national groups, are drawing attention to the problem. Each new milkweed plant adds to monarch habitat.
So for now, Mexican villagers are awaiting the arrival of the amazing migrants. The monarch migration boosts local economies in some areas. Residents serve as tour guides, sell souvenirs, and rent out rooms to accommodate tourists.
Imagine, all of this for a creature that weighs one-half of a gram.