Nav: Home

Monarchs ride west coast winds: Proof of butterfly migration gathered

June 25, 2018

PULLMAN, Wash. - After five years and nearly 15,000 tagged butterflies, scientists now have proof that Monarch butterflies migrate from the Pacific Northwest to California in late summer and fall, a journey averaging nearly 500 miles.

Most of the tagging was done by citizen scientists and inmates from the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. The prisoners are carefully trained in raising, tagging, and releasing Monarchs.

The findings were recently published in the Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society. WSU entomology professor David James spearheaded the project, which took a massive amount of time and coordination to put together, ultimately involving hundreds of volunteers. The research was unfunded, making the volunteers indispensable.

Long distance travelers

"On average, these butterflies averaged almost 40 miles of travel each day," James said. "That's pretty remarkable for such a small creature."

Though scientists don't know exactly how the butterflies travel that far, they suspect the Monarchs may ride warm air currents called thermals a few thousand feet up in the air, then use the strong upper-air currents to navigate, James said.

The paper covered the initial five years of the project, from 2012 to 2016. Participants tagged and released 13,778 Monarchs that were raised in captivity and tagged 875 wild Monarchs. More than one-third of the raised Monarchs were reared by inmates at Walla Walla, James said.

Butterflies were released from around Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia.

A total of 60 tagged Monarchs were recovered more than six miles from their release point, a return rate that James said was expected based on similar work done in the eastern United States. None of the recovered tags were from the wild Monarchs.

The longest recorded journey was from a butterfly released by James himself in Yakima that was recovered at Tecolote Canyon, near Goleta, California, a straight-line distance of 845 miles.

On average, the 60 recovered butterflies travelled just shy of 500 miles.

Flowers for fuel

The results from this project will be used to show migratory corridors where areas can be stocked with flowers, James said. Migration is a very vulnerable time for Monarchs.

"They need fuel, which is nectar from flowers," James said. "If we have large areas without flowers, then they won't make it."

Most scientists think the butterflies descend from their flight in the evening to feed, then eat again in the morning before finding thermals to ride back up, James said.

Monarchs have seen a huge population decline over the last two decades, James said. It's estimated populations have declined approximately 90 percent over that timeframe. Ensuring nectar resources along migration routes will help them survive their journeys.

Critical help from citizen scientists

James said he's never worked on a project with so many citizen scientists before, and is incredibly grateful for all of their help.

"The results we got would have been impossible without their help, whether that's the prisoners or just people that care about butterflies who have contacted us," James said.

The project is still ongoing, with nearly 5,000 people on the group's Facebook page.

James thinks that eventually, technology will eliminate the need to tag so many thousands of butterflies.

"Right now, microchips are too heavy for Monarchs," James said. "But the technology is improving so quickly that we're hoping to get something that will track an individual throughout his or her journey. Then we can just chip 100 or 200 butterflies and not tag 15,000."
-end-


Washington State University

Related Butterflies Articles:

Cities are key to saving monarch butterflies
Monarch butterflies are at risk of disappearing from most of the US, and to save them, we need to plant milkweed for them to lay their eggs on.
Butterflies are genetically wired to choose a mate that looks just like them
Male butterflies have genes which give them a sexual preference for a partner with a similar appearance to themselves, according to new research.
Butterflies thrive in grasslands surrounded by forest
For pollinating butterflies, it is more important to be close to forests than to agricultural fields, according to a study of 32,000 butterflies by researchers at Linköping University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala.
Fewer monarch butterflies are reaching their overwintering destination
The monarch butterfly is currently experiencing dire problems with its migration in eastern North America.
Butterflies of the soul
A new study reveals how interneurons, dubbed 'the butterflies of the soul,' emerge and diversify in the brain.
At last, butterflies get a bigger, better evolutionary tree
Butterflies offer key insights into community ecology, how species originate and evolve, climate change and interactions between plants and insects.
Earliest fossil evidence of butterflies and moths
Researchers working in Germany have unearthed the earliest known fossil evidence of insects from the order Lepidoptera, which includes butterflies and moths.
How a 'flipped' gene helped butterflies evolve mimicry
Scientists from the University of Chicago analyzed genetic data from a group of swallowtail species to find out when and how mimicry first evolved, and what has been driving those changes since then.
Convergent evolution of mimetic butterflies confounds classification
David Lohman, associate professor of biology at The City College of New York's Division of Science, is co-author of a landmark paper on butterflies 'An illustrated checklist of the genus Elymnias Hübner, 1818 (Nymphalidae, Satyrinae).' Lohman and his colleagues from Taiwan and Indonesia revise the taxonomy of Asian palmflies in the genus Elymnias in light of a forthcoming study on the butterflies' evolutionary history.
Monarch butterflies disappearing from western North America
Monarch butterfly populations from western North America have declined far more dramatically than was previously known and face a greater risk of extinction than eastern monarchs, according to a new study in the journal Biological Conservation.
More Butterflies News and Butterflies Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#538 Nobels and Astrophysics
This week we start with this year's physics Nobel Prize awarded to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz and finish with a discussion of the Nobel Prizes as a way to award and highlight important science. Are they still relevant? When science breakthroughs are built on the backs of hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of people's hard work, how do you pick just three to highlight? Join host Rachelle Saunders and astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Ethan Siegel for their chat about astrophysics and Nobel Prizes.