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Hot on the Trail: Migrating Monarchs

Posted on October 27, 2015



Where do butterflies go for the winter? Some species spend their winter in the adult stage of their life cycle; but most go through winter as an egg, caterpillar or chrysalis. The hibernating stages (egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, or adult) produce sugar-like chemicals in their bodies that acts like antifreeze. If ice-crystals were to form inside a butterflies body, it would damage their cells and tissues. The antifreeze stops ice from forming, so no damage occurs. Some butterflies survive the cold in egg form, hatching out in the spring; while a few stay in a suspended state as a chrysalis attached to different plants. Only a few species have the ability to overwinter as adult butterflies by going into a hibernation-like state, and only becoming active once the weather warms up.


The monarch butterfly takes an approach out of the playbook of birds, as this species migrates south for the winter. Monarchs are large, powerful butterflies. One marked individual flew over 400 kilometers in one day, but most tend to stop more frequently than that. Not all monarchs migrate in the fall though. Each summer produces four or five generations of monarchs. Only the latest generations live long enough to make the migration journey to wintering ranges in California and Mexico.


-Ranger Rachel