Sep 25 2011

Monarchs on the Move

Published by at 7:30 am under Insects, Fish, Frogs,Migration

Every year at this time I blog about monarch butterfly migration. I hope you don't tire of it.  It's just so amazing to me that this butterfly migrates as much as 2,500 miles to spend the winter in Mexico -- and we can see it happening.

Years ago people suspected the butterflies were migrating but didn't know where they went.  After 40 years of tagging and tracking monarchs, Dr. Fred Urquhart found their wintering site in 1976 in the mountains of Mexico.  At first the locations were kept secret because there are so few of them, but nowadays they are eco-tourist destinations where visitors can observe millions of monarchs in the Oyamel fir trees.

Right now the butterflies are on their way.  Yesterday afternoon at the Waterfront Shopping Center I was loading my car when I saw a monarch fly by.  I paused and looked up and counted 10 monarch butterflies flying southwest over the parking lot.  The wind was calm, the air was warm and all of them were fluttering in the exact same direction, each bug on its own long journey.  Wow!

Monarchs are on the move across the country.  You can watch their progress on the Journey North website or in your own neighborhood.  In southwestern Pennsylvania you can know a monarch butterfly is migrating by these three things:

  1. It's the right time of year --  September is prime time.
  2. The butterfly is fluttering or gliding in one direction without pausing to eat.
  3. It's flying southwest.  

It's easy to see them.  Keep looking up.

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

p.s.  This monarch is male.  You can tell because he has dots on his hind wings.  The females don't have them.

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Monarchs on the Move”

  1. Rob Protzon 25 Sep 2011 at 10:18 am

    I saw a bunch yesterday too!

    They will stop to eat sometime though! If they don’t, they can’t fly 2,500 miles. . .

    And those dots on the males’ hindwings? Marcy has another name for them, but I’ll leave that to her 😉


  2. sharon leadbitteron 25 Sep 2011 at 10:57 am

    You can also look for a small round sticker on the underside of their wings and know that the monarch is being tracked

    I just saw one with a tag be-bopping around at the Pittsburgh Zoo on Saturday 🙂

  3. Rob Protzon 26 Sep 2011 at 12:39 pm


    That tagged monarch you saw at the zoo Saturday would be the work of Miss June, aka June from Gibsonia on Birds & Nature who works there and also does a monarch program. She had a Monarch tagging class on Saturday with 48 participants and they tagged 48 Monarchs, so the one you saw was undoubtedly one of those.


  4. Sharon Leadbitteron 26 Sep 2011 at 6:37 pm

    Oh cool! I wonder where it’ll end up? Too bad they don’t have black & gold stickers for them so you know it’s from Pittsburgh!!

  5. Anne Curtison 27 Sep 2011 at 11:40 pm

    I worked the Shadyside House Tour and was stationed from 11 am to about 2 on a rooftop patio on Elmer. During the rare slow times, I counted at least 25 Monarchs, all heading the same direction, southwestern-ish. (Using the Cathedral of Learning as my landmark.) Almost all drifted onto the garage-deck patio across the way, which was full of black-eyed Susans and other colorful flowers. I spoke to that owner later, and she was delighted, since she and husband had planted butterfly-friendly plants only that summer, and they hadn’t seen many butterflies. I also saw one that I think was a Leopard.


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