Monarch Butterfly Migrations


Monarch Butterfly
Migration Patterns





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Migrating Monarchs
Best Seen
in October and November

The monarch's annual passage down the East Coast is a harbinger of the Holiday Season. (See Where To See Migrating Monarchs)

Countless numbers of the orange and black creatures east of the Rocky Mountains decorate fall trees like colorful Christmas ornaments as they move toward the Gulf Coast and Mexico. Butterflies west of the Rockies migrate, too, but to the California coast, between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The monarch migration is a generational one, which means it takes multiple generations for the migration cycle to become complete.

This is very different from the migration of other animals, such as birds, where the same individual begins and ends the migratory journey.

Monarchs arrive in Mexico in November and stay until the end of March or the beginning of April. On their return to the United States, hormone changes kick in again and cause the butterflies both to become reproductive and to age quickly.

Returning females lay most of their eggs once they arrive back in Southern states, then die. The adults that emerge from these eggs will continue the journey northward, although it may require another generation or two to complete the trip to the northernmost ranges.

In the fall, it's possible that the same butterfly will travel from Wisconsin to Mexico, a distance of several thousand miles, and it's a wonder the butterflies don't arrive in tatters. They probably would if they had to flap their way the entire trip.

Instead, like birds, they use high altitude air currents to carry them for a distance, come down to feed, then take off again. Monarchs do not fly at night.  

Where To See Migrating Monarchs

Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle

Monarchs and Milkweed 

Monarchs in Mexico

Monarch Homepage

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