Monarch butterflies make mighty migration to Mexico: ‘an incredibly rare phenomenon’

Local News

You may be noticing more Monarch butterflies fluttering around town. That’s because they’re making a mighty migration to Mexico right now.

“This is actually an incredibly rare phenomenon in the insect world… and even in the animal kingdom,” Dr. Nick Henshue said, a UB clinical assistant professor of ecology.

Right now is the premier migration time for the butterflies, and this trek, along with the lifespan of the Monarch, is intriguing and bewildering to researchers.

Dr. Henshue said the regular lifespan of the Monarch butterfly is only several weeks, but the Monarchs that migrate in the fall can live many months. The ones that migrate are laid as eggs in the Gulf states, and then they come north, to areas like Buffalo and Ontario, Canada, for the summer. For the winter months, they migrate to Mexico. The entire trek to Mexico is nearly 3,000 miles from Buffalo. And those Monarchs that make the journey are doing it for the first and last time. So how do they even know where to go?

“There is a lot of research that indicates that there are bits of iron ore or magnetite inside of the brains of the Monarchs, and we still aren’t precisely sure how they know where to go,” Dr. Henshue said. “It’s one of the great phenomena of nature.”

Dr. Henshue’s Ecological Methods class, at UB, tagged a group of butterflies before they headed south. They did so for three days straight at Riverside Park. This tagging teaches the students about data collection and analysis.

The tags are stickers that have serial numbers on them. The stickers will be taken off the butterflies once they’re in Mexico, by students from the University of Kansas. A professor there has been studying the Monarch migration pattern for about 40 years.

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