They are migrating insects and important pollinators. Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) are located throughout the United States and Central America down to the tip of South America.
Monarchs display a familiar pattern with black veins and a black border with white spots. Between the veins, the color is orange. Orange is considered a warning color throughout nature and society. The monarch butterfly’s wings alert predators that the insect will taste bad and could be toxic. Before monarchs change into butterflies, they are caterpillars. The caterpillars feed on milkweed plants which contain toxic chemicals called cardenolide glycosides which are heart-arresting. Viceroy butterflies are not toxic, but they closely resemble the monarchs in what is called “biomimicry” to protect themselves from predators.
Monarch butterflies would be at the top of the list for an insect air-mile rewards program. They are the insects with the longest migration distance on the planet. Each fall they can log up to 3,000 miles (4,800 km) of travel from the eastern United States and Canada to Mexico. If you thought hot air balloons fly at high altitudes, think again. A hot air balloon glides at about 200 feet (60 m). Glider pilots have seen monarch butterflies at 11,000 feet (3,350 m). Monarchs fly at different levels of altitude depending on wind patterns. Strong winds cause monarchs to fly quite low to the ground or not at all. When the winds are correct, massive clusters of monarch butterflies burst out from their roosting points and ride the air toward the sky.
These butterflies can sense temperature patterns and know the right time to migrate. They can identify topographical characteristics of land and water, mountains, and valleys. Even more amazing is that it’s a multi-generational migration. Females lay their eggs on milkweed plants on the trip, and the resulting caterpillars morph into butterflies to continue the journey to their ancestral grounds. The round trip may take up to four generations.
Although scientists have studied it and devised some theories, they still can’t explain how this migration is possible. Whether it will ever be understood or not, we think it shows evidence of an intelligent Designer. Monarch butterflies are one of the many insects that God has designed to serve an important purpose in His Creation.
© Tyler Earnst