Kids can play part in the monarch butterfly’s migration

  • Ann Posegate Special to The Washington Post
  • Sunday, February 24, 2013 2:47pm
  • Life

In the world of insect migration, monarch butterflies rule the sky. Every fall, hundreds of millions of these black, orange and white insects migrate thousands of miles from the United States and Canada to the mountains of central Mexico, where they spend the winter. By late February, they begin their return journey north.

“We’re estimating that many of these butterflies fly more than 5,000 miles in their lifetime,” said Chip Taylor, who runs the Monarch Watch Program at the University of Kansas. He and his team place small tags on monarchs’ wings to monitor where they fly.

“Monarchs have a biological clock in their brain, but also one in their antennae that tells them when the sun rises and sets,” Taylor said. By keeping track of the sun’s location in the sky, these two body parts act like a calendar and compass for the butterflies.

Monarchs that spend the winter in Mexico live eight or nine months, longer than any other monarchs. They begin their migration in late summer or early fall and reach Mexico in late fall and early winter, covering an average of 25 to 30 miles a day.

They begin their flight back to the southern United States in late February and March. Along the way, each female lays a few hundred eggs. As the migrating generation dies off a month or two later, the new generation continues the springtime migration north and reaches the eastern United States and Canada in late spring and early summer.

Migrating monarchs face many dangers, including storms and predators. But according to Taylor, their biggest threat is habitat loss.

Like all living things, monarchs need food, water and shelter. Adult monarchs eat nectar from flowers, and their larvae (the caterpillar stage) eat milkweed plants.

In the United States, about 6,000 acres of land are paved over each day for roads and buildings, leaving less space for butterfly habitats.

But kids can help. You can raise the caterpillars to butterflies, then release the adults. “Monarch Watch provides monarch caterpillars to hundreds of schools,” Taylor said.

Kids also can plant milkweed and other butterfly-friendly plants in their gardens, or catch and tag adult monarchs before migration begins.

“Catching butterflies isn’t as easy as it may sound,” Taylor said. “There are some skills involved.” But every tag helps researchers learn more. And when it comes to these tiny traveling butterflies, there is much to discover.

Learn more

To learn about tagging and tracking monarch butterflies go to www.monarchwatch.org.

More in Life

This beefy ex-cop has a delicate hobby: intricate paper-cut art

You can see Tom Sacco’s creations at the upcoming Everett Art Walk.

Kamiak student Aidan Norris (center) drags Matthew Ninh into a scene as Mitchell Beard (left) reads his lines. (Ian Terry / The Herald)
Joy, disappointment at Kamiak High’s ‘Spamalot’ auditions

More than 80 students try out for 45 roles in the outrageous Monty Python musical comedy.

Arlington eagle fest wants your nature-themed artwork, haiku

Local residents of an artistic bent are invited to submit… Continue reading

What’s new for 2018 for travelers in Scandinavia

Sweden, Norway and Finland have embarked on many urban, cultural and transit projects.

Kia Rio subcompact takes a classy step up in 2018

A new design, roomier cabin, and better fuel economy are among the improvements on the 2018 Kia Rio.

Overcome your fear of death, in a book title at least

Three novels about death worth reading at Everett Public Library.

Dolores O’Riordan was lead singer of Irish band The Cranberries

The police force said the death was being treated as “unexplained.”

‘Trump saying something racist isn’t exactly news anymore:’ ‘SNL’

The week’s news was dominated by reports that Trump disparaged Haiti, El Salvador and all of Africa.

Bald eagle no longer listed as ‘sensitive species’ in the state

A recent study found that eagle numbers are strong throughout Washington.

Most Read