When multiple butterflies appear out the living room window, above my car in traffic, and overhead in the park, I know it's September. The monarchs are migrating southward.
One recent blustery noon, we stopped to gaze at a monarch, grasping tightly to a flower, being buffeted around by strong winds. The gusts were so powerful that the flower the butterfly held was completely horizontal at times. The flower would lay parallel to the ground, until the wind threw it upright and then down in the opposite direction. Still, the butterfly hung on. We watched for ten minutes, mesmerized. We looked as we walked away, witnessing the wind continually toss the migrating butterfly every which way.
At last look, the monarch was beating the wind.
This image stayed with me. Wanting to understand the monarch's power, I did some research.
Now, imagine that you are a monarch:
- You weigh between 0.25 and 0.75 grams (for comparison, a dime weighs 2.3 grams).
- You can fly 12 miles or 18 km per hour. If you have to, you can fly much faster for quick sprints.
- You fly, on average, 50 miles (80 km) per day.
- In 30 days, you will have flown 1,500 miles (2,414 km).
It might be pure instinct that drives the monarchs. There is definitely an internal mechanism that switches on and guides them when the time is right. I understand science's take on all this.
Then I go back to what so amazes me:
Their delicate, paper-thin wings. Their spindly legs. Eating only flower nectar and water for fuel. An ability to travel hundreds, even thousands, of miles. Seeing monarch after monarch this time every year and ruminating over what they encounter on their journey, only more mystery fills my thoughts and drives my imagination.
Monarch facts and map courtesy of Monarch Watch