Have you ever heard of butterflies that migrate for over 5,000 km? Or ever heard of butterflies that live for about 8 months?
This remarkable creature is known as the Monarch Butterfly. Sturdy and unbelievable creatures, aren’t they? Stanito found them for you in the remoteness of Michoacán state in Mexico.
You’re probably wondering what’s so special about them… Well in fact, dear Reader, what I said above is what makes them so unique: the Monarch Butterfly is the little creature that embarks in one of the longest mass migration ever seen in nature. Every year they travel for over 5,000 km to escape the North American winter (which is about 120 km per day on a journey that generally lasts 25-30 days) only to find refuge in the Mexican favorable temperatures. Otherwise the roughness of winter might in fact kill them.
This butterfly begins life as an egg and hatch as larvae.
The larvae eats its own shell and the milkweed plant on which they were placed.
The larvae becomes fat and colourful caterpillars and then enter the pupa phase.
It is here where they emerge as beautiful and unique patterned adults, with bright black, orange and white tones that makes Monarchs easy to identify—and that’s the idea.
Once the butterflies that emerge from the pupa stage they begin to sense that weather is changing. These butterflies are born to fly, and the changing weather warns them that they must prepare for their lengthy journey.
Here are a few facts that you need to know about their migration: only monarchs born in late summer or early fall make the migration, and they make only one round trip. This is how many of them are marked so that it is possible to see how many of them actually return to the exact same spot. Sometimes the exact same tree!
By the time next year’s winter migration begins, several summer generations will have lived and died and it will be last year’s migrators’ great grandchildren that make the trip. Yet somehow these new generations know the way, and follow the same routes their ancestors took—sometimes even returning to the same tree. As I am currently based in Mexico I have the chance to see where they finalise their journey.
Yet the mystery remains… How is it possible that they know exactly where to return? How do they know which tree they need to go to? How do they know where they ancestors died?
I enquired about this and it is not possible to have one scientific answer to this question. I did however found interesting theories. Don Julio, our guide, told us that even though there is no exact proof of it butterflies fly following their grief for their ancestors. This gives a sentimental yet impossible to prove theory which I actually find plausible and magic at the same time.
While it is possible to explain the internal compass that makes them travel for so long, it is still impossible to explain how they land on the same spot they and their ancestors landed on at the end of their journey. This shall remain a mystery to all of us 🙂