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Butterfly Migration

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Butterfly Migration

Like any living creature, butterflies must go where the food is. For some species, these means migration, over short or long distances. In Central Florida, we have a year-round population of butterflies, but they vary with the seasons. In the cooler winter months, more tropical species like White Peacocks and Polydamas Swallowtails move further south in the state to avoid possible freezing weather. At the same time, species like Common Buckeyes and Painted Ladies shift their population south from northern states to spend the winter in Florida. Many butterfly species shift north and south with changing seasons, but a few undergo much more dramatic migrations.

Monarch Migration
Monarchs make one of the most famous migrations in the world. They travel up to 3,000 miles from Canada to Mexico each fall and back each spring - astounding for an insect that weighs as much as a paper clip and has wings so fragile the touch of human fingers can cause irreparable damage.

Super-Generation: The typical lifespan of a monarch butterfly is 2 - 3 weeks. However, the fall migration is made by a single generation of monarchs, meaning the butterflies that leave northern areas are the same ones that arrive in Mexico several months later. Once in Mexico, they roost in trees in such large numbers that branches have been known to break. In the spring, these butterflies awake and begin their journey north again. They make it as far as northern Mexico or southern Texas before mating, laying eggs, and finally dying. This generation, known as the super-generation, lives as many nine months to complete the extraordinary journey.

Their offspring will continue the journey north when they emerge as butterflies, stopping somewhere a bit further along the route to repeat the process. It takes several generations of butterflies, each living only a few weeks, to make the spring migration back to the northern states and Canada. These butterflies do so without any direct instruction; something has been passed along to them from their parent butterflies to help guide them north. Much of this is still a mystery, as it is often is with the phenomenon of migration.

Florida Monarchs: Here in peninsular Florida, we have a year-round resident population of monarchs that don’t migrate. This is both good and bad. We enjoy these butterflies every month of the year, which is great for us. But if a disease or weakness makes its way into the population, it’s likely to become widespread very quickly, without the advantage of outside breeding with other butterfly populations to strengthen the resident population again.

You can follow the journey of monarchs each spring and fall by visiting and contributing data to Journey North, which features detailed maps of spottings and weekly updates. You can also help monarchs along the way, as well as those resident here in Florida, by creating a Certified Monarch Waystation.

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