The Incredible Journey of the Monarch Butterflies

Monarch butterfly and Viceroy monarch butterfly.
Monarch butterfly and Viceroy monarch butterfly. | Source
Female Monarch butterfly
Female Monarch butterfly | Source
Male Monarch butterfly
Male Monarch butterfly | Source
The white morph butterfly also known as the albino Monarch butterfly, native to Oahu, Hawaii.
The white morph butterfly also known as the albino Monarch butterfly, native to Oahu, Hawaii. | Source

Monarch butterflies

In the morning as I sit on the lanai sipping my coffee, I watch the beautiful orange and black Monarch butterflies flutter past flitting from one plant and flower to another. They are delicate and their bodies look like a stain glass window painted on each wing. I marvel that something that delicate and lovely can take on the long and difficult journey that they do, especially the ones east of the Rocky Mountains.

The Monarch butterfly, also known as, Danaus plexippus, its scientific and Latin name, is a milkweed butterfly in the family Nymphalidae. Monarchs are the best known of the N. American butterflies as there are millions and millions of them on the N. American continent. They are also found in New Zealand and Australia and in Europe, specifically in the Canary Islands, the Azores and Madeira.

The female and male Monarch butterflies are not easy to tell apart. The female Monarchs have darker black veins on their wings. The males have a spot, androconum, in the center of each hind wing and this is where the pheromones are released during mating time. These pheromones release an ordor that attracts the female to the male Monarchs so that they can mate. The males are also a little larger in size than the females.

The American Monarch butterflies are closely related to the Jamaican Monarch and the S.American Monarch that lives south of the Amazon River. Monarchs are, therefore, well known butterflies throughout the world. They can also be found in Bermuda, Hawaii, and India.

When I taught Spanish, every year I would teach a lesson on the Monarch butterflies because they are best known for the long and difficult journey they make each autumn from Canada and northern U.S. to Mexico and then back again in the spring. This is one lesson my students always were amazed and curious about, because these butterflies are so delicate and small to take on such a long journey. All Monarch butterflies east of the Rocky Mountains fly to the same destination and that is the Mariposa Monarca Biosphere Reserve located in the state of Michocan in Mexico. The butterflies stay here in a protected sanctuary for the winter and then take the difficult journey back north in the spring. This particular lesson always inspired a few of my students to want to visited the reserve in Mexico some day. And, I would like to join them, as I think a trip to this reserve would be so interesting.

Monarch butterflies at their destination in the Mariposa Monarca Biosphere Reserve in Angangueo, Mexico in the state of Michocan.
Monarch butterflies at their destination in the Mariposa Monarca Biosphere Reserve in Angangueo, Mexico in the state of Michocan. | Source

The Journey of the Monarch butterflies

As mentioned before, all the Monarch butterflies east of the Rocky Mountains journey to the sanctuary at the Marisposa cMonarca Biosphere Reserve in the state of Michocan in Mexico. All of the Monarch butterflies west of the Rocky Mountains fly to central and coastal California for the winter. They fly to the towns of Pacific Grove and Santa Cruz for sanctuary during the winter.

Once the Monarchs winter in their respective places for the winter, the same individual Monarch butterflies do not journey back north. No single individual Monarch makes the entire round trip. Only the second, third, and fourth generations return to their northern locations in the U.S. and Canada in the spring. What is remarkable is that the life span of the Monarch butterflies is only two months, so the journey they make exceeds the normal lifespan of the Monarchs. How the Monarchs manage to do this journey is that the last generatio of the summer enters into a non-reproductive phase called diapauseand live up to seven months or more so they can make the journey. During diapause, the Monarchs fly to one of the many wintering sights. Then, the generation that winters does not reproduce until it leaves sometime in February or March for up north.

How do the Monarchs manage to return to the same place over different generations? That is still under research by scientists today. Scientists believe the Monarchs flight patterns to be inherited based on a combination of the position of the sun in the sky. Researchers and scientists believe there is a sun compass that depends upon the circadean clock which is based in their antennae. New research has shown that Monarchs can use easrth's magnetic field for orientation. The antennae contain cryptochrome which is a photoreceptor protein that is sensitive to the violet-blue part of the spectrum. This cryptochrome functions as a chemical compass which tells the Monarchs they are aligned with earth's magnetic field as it flies back and forth.

Because of this special photoreceptor Monarchs have, they are one of the few insects that are able to make this long journey and even tran-Atlantic crossings.

This difficult and long round-trip journey that the Monarch butterflies make each year can only be described as incredible. It is fascinating to me how nature adapts to this wonderful planet called Earth. I only hope we can preserve our Earth so that we an enjoy the "incredible journey of the Monarch butterflies" for generations and generations to come.

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Comments 36 comments

Derdriu 5 years ago

suzettenaples: It is wonderful that some of the students in your Spanish classes were interested in traveling to the Reserve. I hope that they, as well as you, are able to do so. A trip to that Reserve certainly qualifies as a once-in-a-lifetime trip that should be done if at all possible.

I have never ceased to be amazed by all aspects of the monarchs' incredible journey. Your last sentence sums up so well the delicate balance in nature which hopefully will be preserved.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 5 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Thank you for reading and commenting! I should mention I am now retired and I did Spanish trips to Spain with my students many times. It was in the last three years of teaching that this came up, and yes, I wish we could have done a trip to see it, but it just never worked out at the time.

The balance of nature has always amazed me and how the earth and nature all works together like a precious jigsaw puzzle. Thanks for stopping by.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

Hi, what a beautiful hub, and amazing information. From learning about the wings and the pheremones to their antennae and the blue spectrum. Its amazing that they live for two months apart from the last one that lives longer to be able to reach its destination. Thanks for the life story of this wonderful butterfly, and the pictures are gorgeous! rated up! cheers nell


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 5 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Thanks Nell! I find the Monarch butterflies to be the most amazing insects in nature. I never tire of watching them. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I always enjoy your comments and thoughts.


Cresentmoon2007 profile image

Cresentmoon2007 5 years ago from Caledonia, MI

I believe Monarch Butterflies to be absolutely beautiful. The pictures you have on your hub are very much so as well. Very interesting and informative.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 5 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Thank you! I agree. If the Monarch butterflies can make this "incredible journey", I think I can make my journey through life also. I take inspiration from them.

Thank you for your kind commments. I enjoy reading your hubs, also as they are so interesting as well.


Beata Stasak profile image

Beata Stasak 5 years ago from Western Australia

We are so used to destroying animals and their habitats without stopping really to see them....to acknowledge their existence...thank you for this inspiring journey of one of those incredible creatures:)


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 5 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Thank you for commenting. I agree with you. We think nothing at all of destroying habitats. Thank goodness enough people have preserved sanctuaries and protected areas so animals, birds and fish can thrive.

Thanks so much for stopping by! It is good to "see" you again!


epigramman profile image

epigramman 5 years ago

..this may well be the definitive and essential butterfly hub and a beautiful one that will fly onto my FACEBOOK page with a direct link back here......

sincerely hope all is well with you .....

lake erie time ontario canada 10:49pm


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 5 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Thanks Epi! You certainly have a way with words. I always enjoy your comments. I wish I had your gift for gab! I am enjoying more of your poetry.


Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 5 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

Thanks for this hub on the amazing Monarch butterfly, I learned new facts about these fascinating creatures. We reared them at our home in New Zealand from tiny eggs on the Swan plant to living, flying butterflies. You may find my hub interesting.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 5 years ago from Taos, NM Author

I will definitely check out your hub on the monarch butterfly rearing. It sounds interesting. Yes, the monarchs and their journeys are incredible. Nature is incredible and always amazing.


tlmcgaa70 profile image

tlmcgaa70 4 years ago from south dakota, usa

beautiful hub. i have always found the monarch butterflies to be amazing and their journeys nothing short of a miracle. voted up and shared.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I'm glad you enjoyed this piece. I agree with you the monarch's journey is nothing short of a miracle - well said!


vespawoolf profile image

vespawoolf 4 years ago from Peru, South America

This is a beautifully written hub. What a great idea to teach this subject to your Spanish students! Monarch butterflies were plentiful where I grew up in the Midwest. One summer I captured a catepillar, fed it with milkweed leaves and watched it spin its cocoon. I was there, as well, for the day it crawled out of the cocoon as a crumpled new butterfly. I was thrilled! When its wings had dried and it was time to release it, my parents and I watched as it flew away. What a surprise when the butterfly circled around and landed up my shoulder for a brief moment before flying away and disappearing into the summer sky. My mother said it had thanked me for taking care of it. Thank you for a meaningful hub. I've always found the Monarch migration fascinating, as well. Voted up and shared!


Dahlia Flower profile image

Dahlia Flower 4 years ago from Canada

This is fantastic information. I know I've read about the Monarchs before but maybe the articles weren't written simply enough for me. This -- I understand. Great work, suzettenaples. Your passion for the butterflies comes through.


Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

I've always wanted to visit their 'sanctuary' destination. Austin is on the migratory path, and there are times when you can see hundreds of these delicate creatures covering one of the 'butterfly' bushes people plant to attract them.


Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 4 years ago from Maui and Arizona

Really nice hub, suzettenaples. I'm bookmarking your hub if that's still legal -- since they took the bookmark gadget out. I want to try to understand the whole process of the migration a little better. It's so amazing.

And about the magnetic field, I had a cat come back from a long ways away when the new owner adopted her and took her home. I've read the cats find their way home via the earth's magnetic field, but I've not read into the details of it. You've gone into good detail here.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

vespawoolf: Thank you for reading this piece. My students did love this classroom lesson. They all wanted to take a "field trip" to the town in Mexico where the butterflies make their destination. I would have loved to have done that with them, too, but my school wasn't so hot on the idea - too expensive! lol

Your experience with the caterpillar and the milkleaves leaves is a great story. You might want to write a hub about that. That is really interesting. I think the butterfly did know you had helped it and wanted to thank you. That is so cool! That these delicate creatures make such a long journey is amazing to me. Thank you so much for stopping by to read this and for your input. It is greatly appreciated!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Dahlia flower: Thanks so much for your comments and compliments. I really appreciate them and I'm so happy you enjoyed reading this and it was so helpful. I do love butterflies and think they are just the most beautiful and delicate creation. Butterflies always make me smile. Thanks for stopping by to visit.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

PamelaKinnard: I'm so happy you enjoyed this article and that it was helpful to do. I do think that the animals in the animal kingdom do have special instincts when it comes to these kinds of migrations. I read many times about pets that find their way back home after being lost or stolen. I find it amazing.

In Ohio, where I am originally from, the blue herons return to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park every March 3. Not March 2 and not on March 4 - always on March 3. I find that amazing that they do it on the same date every year. There has to be a special something in their DNA or these magnetic fields that keep them on these journeys. I think there is so much we don't know about living creatures out there. Thanks so much for reading and for your input - it is greatly appreciated!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Hi Marcy: I think that is so cool that you are in the migration path of the monarchs. That must be something to see them on their journey. I, too, would like to see the refuge in Mexico where they end their journey. It must be beautiful to see all those butterflies in one place. I am amazed by the long journey of these delicate creatures. Life is amazing! Thanks so much for stopping by - I enjoyed your comments!


TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

TIMETRAVELER2 4 years ago

When I was visiting NY a few years ago, a small restaurant had a "hatch" ready to "bloom"...it was something to see. I don't know how they collected all of those butterfly cocoons but they were gorgeous. Lovely hub, my friend.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Why thank you, TimeTraveler. I'm so glad you enjoyed this piece and I appreciate the comments. I don't know how to collect them, but I do know there is a specific technique for doing so. And there are special ways in which to keep them and feed the milkweed, I believe. The life of a butterfly has been such a metaphor for life over the years and in literature. I just love them and they are so beautiful and delicate!


georgescifo profile image

georgescifo 2 years ago from India

Really interesting . Thanks for sharing...


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

georgescifo: I am so glad you enjoyed reading this hub and found it interesting. I love the flight of the monarch butterflies and I find it amazing that generation through generation they know where to go in which season. One of nature's beauty.


mary615 profile image

mary615 2 years ago from Florida

I also wrote a Hub about the beautiful Monarchs and how I am preserving them. In fact, I see mine is a related Hub to this one.

Preserving the Monarchs has become one of my many hobbies. I encourage everyone to keep Milkweed for them to eat and lay their eggs on.

You wrote a very informative Hub! Voted UP, etc.and shared.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Hi Mary: I read your hub and it is wonderful. I am going to link it to my hub if you don't mind. The monarch butterflies are amazing and so is their journey. I love it every time I see one.


twoseven profile image

twoseven 2 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

I love the Monarchs! I grew up in Santa Cruz and it was always a big deal when they all showed up at Natural Bridges state park each year. Thanks for a great hub on this beautiful subject!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

twoseven: I am so pleased you enjoyed reading this hub. Yes, California is the stop for the Monarchs west of Colorado and I am sure stops along the way. They are so wonderful to watch and a delight during the summertime. They show to us they are not as fragile as they look. They are pretty tough to make these long journeys. Thanks so much for your comments and your visit. Most appreciated.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 2 years ago

They are amazing insects. Their life journey is incredible and does make you wonder how they manage to return to unknown destinations. Thanks for the education. You told it so well.


Vellur profile image

Vellur 2 years ago from Dubai

An amazing hub about the Monarch butterflies, it is sad that they have a short lifespan. They are incredibly beautiful!! The journey across the transatlantic oceans is quite a feat!! Interesting and informative voted up.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Dianna: I find their journey amazing. And, they have a built in locator to get where they need to be. It amazes my it takes several generations of monarchs to make this journey. Thanks so much for reading this and your insightful comments.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Vellur: I find their journey amazing and it is sad that they have such a short lifespan. it takes several generations to make the full journey and yet they find where they need to go by instinct! I find them so interesting too. THanks so much for your comments.


Thelma Alberts profile image

Thelma Alberts 2 years ago from Germany

What a beautiful hub! Those butterflies have made an amazing journey. Thanks for sharing this very useful informations.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Thelma: Thank you so much and I am pleased you enjoyed reading this. I think their journey is amazing and all done by instinct as it takes several generations to make it south and back. Nature truly is wonderful to behold.

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