About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
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This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Mystery of migrating monarch navigation solved

A new study suggests how Monarch Butterflies may process information to determine which way to migrate in the spring and fall. Each fall, monarchs migrate over 2,000 miles to the relative warmth of central Mexico. This journey, repeated instinctively by generations of monarchs. “Their compass integrates two pieces of information — the time of day and the sun’s position on the horizon — to find the southerly direction,” said Eli Shlizerman, a University of Washington assistant professor.

Shlizerman, partnered with colleagues at the University of Michigan and the University of Massachusetts to model how the monarch’s compass is organized within its brain.

Monarchs use their large, complex eyes to monitor the sun’s position in the sky then combine that information with an internal clock in their antennae to help them navigate in the southwest direction.

Their model also suggests a simple explanation why monarch butterflies are able to reverse course in the spring and head northeast back to Michigan. The four neural mechanisms that transmit information about the clock and the sun’s position would simply need to reverse direction.

“And when that happens, their compass points northeast instead of southwest,” said Shlizerman. “It’s a simple, robust system to explain how these butterflies — generation after generation — make this remarkable migration.”

In addition to Reppert, other co-authors on the paper were James Phillips-Portillo at the University of Massachusetts and Daniel Forger at the University of Michigan. Shlizerman’s work was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Washington Research Fund. Additional information can be found at the project’s blog.

Resources:
Related Articles:
- Do Monarch Butterflies just wake up in the spring? http://goo.gl/5tkUk
- Monarch migration route http://goo.gl/L66ty
- Punctuation Butterflies: The First Butterfly of Spring! http://bit.ly/JHUpG1  
- How Fast Does a Monarch Butterfly Fly? http://bit.ly/ywhpZr
- Did you know butterflies have ears on their wings? http://bit.ly/x04qEi

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