Waves of Monarch Butterflies

Monarch butterfly on salvia (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

26 September 2021

In mid-to-late September monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) pass through western Pennsylvania on the way to their winter home in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Michoac√°n, Mexico. Last week I saw quite a few flying southwest, one at a time.

Each butterfly travels alone, migrating 50-100 miles a day and resting at night. By the time the eastern population has reached Texas their paths converge.

Monarch butterfly fall migration patterns (map from US Forest Service)

They look for good roosting habitat and end up together, often in pine trees, to wait out the night or bad weather.

Migrating monarch butterflies resting on a pine tree on Fire Island, NY (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

When flight conditions suddenly improve they are spurred to leave. They all depart at once. That’s what happened on 19 October 2019 in Oklahoma after a cold front passed through. Click here to see Monarch butterflies and dragonflies migrating caught on radar.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons, map from US Forest Service; click on the captions to see the originals)

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