News Stories

We've Finally Learned How Monarchs Navigate

Every year, fragile monarch butterflies fly more than athousand miles, from Canada to their winter home in Mexico.They stop along the way to eat milkweed, one of theirfavorite foods. Until recently, no one knew how theynavigated such great distances, but now scientists havediscovered that they carry a "solar compass" inside theirtiny brains, which picks up ultraviolet light?the lightrange that humans cannot see.

Scientists have long suspected that monarchs use the sun toguide them, but since the sun moves across the sky as theday progresses, they didn't know how the insects managed tokeep flying due south. This question has been answered bythe discovery of a brain link from their eyes, which detectultraviolet light, to the part of their brains which doesthe actual navigation. When researchers placed a filter thatscreened out UV light over the butterflies' light source,the insects became confused and started flying in circles.

In recent years, unknowncountry.com has posted stories abouthow the monarch butterfly forest in Mexico?where allmonarchs go in the winter?is being cut down and destroyed bylocal farmers, who resent not being able to grow crops onthe land because it?s a butterfly sanctuary. Tourism maysave this habitat, as long as people are careful not todisturb the insects, since the sight is incredible:literally thousands of orange butterflies clinging to treetrunks.

Many people are not aware that monarchs navigate every year,since most other butterflies live only a season and die inthe winter. A group of monarchs high in the sky are notlikely to be noticed?unlike, for instance, a flock ofhonking geese. When they stop to feed along the way, inplaces like Southwest Texas, you can see flocks of theseorange beauties, close to the ground, which often end upflattened on drivers? windshields, along with other insects.

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Art credit: http://www.freeimages.co.uk

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