On a Wing and a Prayer: 5 Fascinating Facts about the Monarch Butterfly

Peter Davis Krahenbuhl August 22, 2015 16
Journey to Mexico's butterfly sanctuaries and stand among hundreds of millions of monarchs as they complete their remarkable migration. (c) Astrid Frisch

Journey to Mexico’s butterfly sanctuaries and stand among hundreds of millions of monarchs as they complete their remarkable migration. (c) Astrid Frisch

Arguably among the most beautiful of all butterfly species, the North American monarch isn’t just another pretty face. It has very interesting characteristics and abilities that none of its cousins across the globe can lay claim to. Here are some amazing facts about this delicate yet incredibly durable and fascinating creature.

1. Frequent flier miles.

In one of the world’s astounding natural animal events each fall, tens of millions of monarch butterflies migrate up to 3000 miles from the Northeastern US and Canada down to their wintering grounds in Central Mexico to escape the frosts of winter. In fact, tagged monarch butterflies have even been found to travel over 250 miles in one day.

The migration is due to the fact that monarchs can’t survive the cold northern winters, unlike other butterflies that can survive as larvae, pupae, or even as adults in some cases. As a result, the monarch is the only butterfly known to make a two-way migration, similar to birds.

2. Radar location?

One of the enigmas around this phenomenon is how millions of infant butterflies who have never been to their ancestral breeding grounds return to the very trees that their parents roosted in before they were born.

3. Don’t eat me I taste horrible!

The orange of a monarch butterfly’s wings is a warning color, identifying itself to predators that the butterfly will taste bad or may be toxic.

4. But if you try, I will fly!

A monarch butterfly can flap its wings up to 120 times in a minute when trying to escape a predator. Their flight speed has been measured between 4 and 12 miles per hour but can be much faster if a monarch uses available wind currents that will speed it up considerably.

5. How high is high?

Monarchs know when it is time to migrate south for the winter based on the environmental cues associated with seasonal changes. They then get naturally high using air currents and thermals to travel such incredible distances. In fact, the highest monarch was recorded at 11,000 ft by a glider pilot – that’s over two miles up in the air! Just to put this into perspective, most birds fly below 500 ft, hot air balloons only go up about 200 ft, and even songbird migrations occur in the 2000-4000 ft high range. There’s not really much else going on above 11,000 feet other than Mt. Everest (29,028 ft) and passenger jets (36,000 ft).

You can experience this astounding natural event up close and personally with Nat Hab and WWF, including our Kingdom of the Monarchs tour and our Monarch Butterfly Photo Adventure.

16 Comments »

  1. Kellie Jeane Aldmeyer May 23, 2017 at 9:24 am - Reply

    Very Cool

  2. Jenny May 1, 2017 at 2:24 pm - Reply

    Very good and interesting!

  3. Timia April 20, 2017 at 12:46 pm - Reply

    This is really fascinating. I have never known this much about these butterflies.

  4. Thomas August 30, 2016 at 9:07 am - Reply

    Great site, really good writing:-)! I really enjoy your blog. I’m waiting for more. Best regards!

  5. Mollie August 24, 2016 at 12:51 am - Reply

    Wow, how interesting, I’m currently doing a project about Monarch Butterflies and this has helped??

  6. Person May 12, 2016 at 2:25 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much about the monarch butterflies

  7. Jake October 15, 2015 at 9:17 am - Reply

    We raised some monarch caterpillars at home, and when two of the butterflies emerged they walked right onto my hand and stayed there until they were ready to fly away!

  8. Dottie V October 12, 2015 at 8:27 pm - Reply

    I live in San Francisco and this afternoon I spotted a Monarch in front of my home. I believe it was on a Lantana bush. I have planted Milkweed plants in my yard and I garden organically. It has been difficult to find milkweed plants, but I now have plants re-seeding. I believe the plant I have is Asclepius specious. It has red and yellow flowers.

  9. Marsha Looney October 10, 2015 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    If you build it they will come.Plant Milkweed somewhere on your land to feed the Monarchs.I did and they returned for the first time in years.Enchanting to see these beauties after all these years and help them survive,

  10. GABRIELA VARGAS MARTÍNEZ October 9, 2015 at 11:27 am - Reply

    CADA ESPECIE TIENE HABILIDADES ESPECTACULARES Y ESTÁN HECHOS A LA MEDIDA DE LAS EXIGENCIAS DE LA NATURALEZA.

    SÓLO EL SER HUMANO ESTROPEA Y HACE PERDER CAPACIDAD A LAS ESPECIES, PERTURBANDO SU HÁBITAT Y CREANDO EN LOS ANIMALES LIMITACIONES Y DISCAPACIDADES.

    POR ESO ES TAN IMPORTANTE LA INFORMACIÓN, YA QUE CREA CONSCIENCIA, SENSIBILIDAD Y RESPETO POR LA NATURALEZA. SÓLO ASÍ ENTENDEMOS QUE REALMENTE LA NECESITAMOS.

  11. Craig loeffelholz October 8, 2015 at 3:58 pm - Reply

    Monarch butterflies, incredible….. What is update on monsanto war on habitats/food like Milkweed?

    Thank you for the interesting article.

    Craig
    (Oh, since a Himalayan peak mentioned, the relatively short migration of Bar Headed goose might be nice side linkage).

  12. Howard L. October 8, 2015 at 9:41 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing the info on the Monarch Butterfly. I am happy to hear they are on the rebound.

  13. Trish October 7, 2015 at 9:18 pm - Reply

    We used to see butterflies (various) migrating every year, but haven’t seen this annual event now for several years now – looks like global warming is really stuffing things up!! :/

  14. Fay October 7, 2015 at 4:57 pm - Reply

    I also heard that as “woolie bear” catarpillers, they mainly feast on milk weed plants?

  15. Jackie Laster October 7, 2015 at 10:29 am - Reply

    Thanks for the information on Monarchs!
    I have a long time love affair with butterflies, and enjoyed this a lot!

  16. Mike October 7, 2015 at 9:20 am - Reply

    Interesting!

Leave A Response »