Butterflies are Wimps

March 1, 2013

Torah Kachur

I know what you're thinking....what happens if you paint a butterfly antenna black? 




I knew it.


If you paint one buttery fly antenna black, they can no longer navigate for their migration.  That's because butterflies use their antenna as a time-compressed sun compass which means that they have little sun dials growing out of their heads that can interpret direction of light and compensate it for the time of day.



The butterfly sun compass is directed by neurons in the brain located in the central complex, a feature that is surprisingly central and complex.  The butterfly has evolved mechanisms to direct its southbound flight to Mexico in the winter and back north in the summer for breeding season.  But, in an odd turn of events, the two populations of Monarch butterflies - the east coasters and west coasters, are genetically the same but are compelled to go to different wintering grounds in Florida and Mexico.  So it's not genetic, but we just don't know what it is.  This explains retired snowbirds as research has been done on this yet.


The Monarch butterfly migration is epic - it takes 3 generations to complete one calendar year, that means that grandchildren who have never been to wintering grounds before will find their way, somehow and the mystery has yet to be unravelled.  New research published this week has locked in one piece of the migratory puzzle - exposure to a little chill in the butterfly's overwintering trees in Mexico or SoCal cause them to hit to the air and head back north.  A little frost and they bail?  Wimps.




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