Migrating Monarchs Soaring at Unbelievable Heights
Monarch Migration has been known to be one of nature’s most spectacular events. Every Fall up to 500,000 monarchs leave the colder regions to seek solace in warmer areas throughout the United States as well as Mexico. Many people here in the Adirondacks are aware of when they first see these beauties in early Summer and when they stop seeing them as fall sets in but have never witnessed the gathering of thousands of monarchs in preparation of their migrating group flight.
As Lepidopterists, every year beginning the second week of September we tag monarchs that we have saved from town mowing, then lovingly reared, tagged, and then released back to nature. Tagging offers us a window into the time and location that monarchs migrate. Through tagging we have learned that sub groups of monarchs have been known to separate from the mass or larger original group and have taken refuge in some non-traditional, warmer weather states here in the U.S. that are not regularly documented.
Tagged monarchs from here in the Adirondacks have been identified in Florida, Texas and Arizona as well as traditional areas in California and Mexico. When it comes to butterflies, their behavior and migrating patterns can be altered due to weather, temperature, and available food sources that change on a whim throughout the country. The only definite details about monarch migration are that they will surely migrate and that they must fly to get to their overwintering sites. We have seen years when it was reported that the monarch population was in dire distress due to the fact, they did not inhabit a certain number of hectares in the mountains of Mexico, only to research and communicate with others around to country to find out that three times the number of monarchs appeared to be overwintering in Texas.
Whether these winged miracles are flying several hundred to several thousand miles to seek ample conditions for survival, these tiny flyers have the ability to fly 50-100 miles a day and have been spotted by passenger jets at over 19,000 feet during ascension. It is believed that the monarchs flying at these astronomical heights can actually hitch a good glide on the jet stream, giving them a much-needed break from chronically flapping their wings, thus conserving precious energy. This super generation, a name given to the last generation to emerge before migration time, emerge with larger wings then their earlier relatives. A divine adaptation in the genetics of Monarchs, giving them a greater chance of survival and success with their labor-intensive migrating flight.
There is one sure thing when it comes to nature and all the wonderful creatures there in; unpredictability! What is true one year, may not be true the next. I believe that this is what makes nature the most interesting, there is always something new occurring to experience. Nature is an eternally flowing river of amazement if you care to venture into the World of the Wild.
Jackie Woodcock photo