With their brilliant black and orange wings, the Monarch Butterfly is among the most easily recognizable of the butterfly species of North America. Ranging from as far north as Canada and all the way south to Mexico City, Monarchs are also among nature's most spectacular migrants.
These tiny creatures, weighing less than 1 gram, accomplish feats of endurance that would leave stronger animals, and most humans, exhausted. Every year, their round-trip journey covers some 1,800 miles traveling up to 100 miles a day, flying as high as 10,000 feet!
Following their ancestors' footsteps
Despite their gossamer wings, Monarchs are expert gliders, catching rides from on winds and spiraling columns of warm air. As amazing as these aerodynamic feats may seem, the butterflies that you see in California are the great-great-grandchildren of the ones that began the journey. Nature has provided the Monarch with navigational instructions genetically programmed into their tiny nervous systems. It gives them all the necessary information to get to Mexico though they haven’t been there before. It is a mystery, and someday the understanding of how such a ‘complex neuronal control system’ works will be explained.
Monarchs make a spectacular pilgrimage to Mexico in millions! A much smaller population lives west of the Rocky Mountains and travel as far south as San Diego. Some live in California year-round while others spend summers way up north in British Columbia, Canada.
As the Californian morning sunshine begins to warm up, basketball-sized clusters of first generation butterflies rustle and stir from eucalyptus and pine trees, filling the air with a monarch butterfly parade. In late January they do their elegant spiraling mating flights and then fly away to lay their eggs inland on milkweed plants – the only plant the hatched caterpillars will eat. They die in the Sierra Nevada soon after this stage. The second generation flies into Oregon, Nevada or Arizona, while the third and fourth generations go even further before returning to the California coast; the place their great-great-grandparents started from.
A symbol of endurance & beauty!
While not considered an endangered species until recently, there is increasing awareness of the Monarch butterfly’s importance as a plant pollinator.
Around the world, people view the butterfly as a symbol of endurance, change, hope, and the beauty and transience of life. It has inspired poems, paintings, and even music, but the effects of Global Warming, habitat loss, deforestation, and pesticides have had a devastating impact on these colorful commuters.
Edited by Dominic D’Cruz