While in the upper regions of North America the Monarch Butterfly has already begun it's annual southward migration, two east coast [and probably local] members of it's royal family have turned up in my small Virginia garden on the Atlantic Coast flyway, feeding heavily on the flowers of a stand of Swan plants. With hundreds of miles in their journey, they and their relatives farther north had better fatten up as much as they can; it's going to be a long long way yet to travel to reach their wintering grounds far to the south.
For some Monarchs in the east that trip can be over two thousand miles, the longest of any butterfly in the world and through half the length of a continent, to a sanctuary in Mexico or Southern California that they have never seen; that even their parents and grandparents never saw.
Generations of Monarchs successively lived and died flying north months earlier from those sanctuaries, seeking food and safe places to leave their eggs [before they themselves died], as the plants they feed on grew and matured in tandem with the northward rise in temperatures in spring and early summer.
Each new generation of eggs became caterpillars, which in turn became butterflies that continued their species migration and now, perhaps a slight change and chill in the air far to the north has triggered their instinct to begin migrating south, to stay well ahead of the even cooler air to come that's deadly to their kind. But their extraordinary trip south can't be described as a 'return', because they've never been there before.
For such a delicate looking insect 2,000 miles seems an impossible distance.
'Journey North' - Information on migration, habits and geography, with maps for tracking their migration for both east and west coast routes, reading about sightings in your area, and reporting your own sightings.
The Nature Conservancy - The Monarch life-cycle.
Bug Guide - Identification: is it really a 'Monarch', or it's mimic the 'Viceroy' butterfly?
The Monarch's reason for migration.
*All photos shot ISO 200, at 18mm focal length, with shutter speeds between 1/250 sec- 1/400 sec, at F 8.0 aperture. Little or no cropping or brightening, no color adjustments. The photos presented here are all of the same Monarch.
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