Wings to the Wind

April 13, 2017 by Elizabeth Howard

Riding south winds, the northernmost monarchs are now 1,500 miles from Mexico. What can a monarch's wings tell us about its travels?

This male’s worn wings show that he’s an old monarch, likely of the overwintering generation. If so, he’s traveled 1,200 miles from Mexico to these blossoms in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Image by Janis Blanton

Monarchs Set Sail

Monarchs from Mexico rarely make it as far north as Lincoln, Nebraska. However, seeing the strong south winds, meteorologist Matthew Van Den Broeke saw monarchs in his forecast:

“Weather was favorable for movement. The day before, I had commented that I wouldn’t be surprised to see monarchs in the next day,” he said. Sure enough, he saw 4 monarchs on April 9th.

A Dramatic Week

The migration moved into 5 new states this week and was noteworthy for its:

Quick pace: 300 miles in 3 days.

Number of reports: 185 people reported 1st sightings

Number of monarchs: A typical 1st sighting is of a single butterfly. This year many people are reporting multiple monarchs with their 1st — as many as 18.

Distance north: The overwintering generation rarely goes farther north than it has already gone this year. See maps.

Is early migration a good thing?

Dr. Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch explains:

“Unfortunately, there are likely to be negative consequences in terms of reproductive success for those monarchs that have reached mid-Kansas and further north. Milkweed is scarce with only a few plants being found in gardens and burned over areas. Egg dumping is likely and late frosts are still a possibility. Larval development will be slowed due to lower temperatures - relative to that which would have occurred had the eggs been laid further south with warmer temperatures.”

Looking Ahead

Strong south winds are forecast for the Midwest through Saturday. How far north will the monarchs from Mexico go?