How Much Fuel Do Monarchs Burn?
Calculating the Energy Costs of Flight
Article | Activity


Biologist Dr. David Gibo measured how much energy monarchs use during different types of flight. His findings show the benefit monarchs can have when traveling with the wind.

Flap or Glide?
Dr. Gibo's experiment compared the energy a monarch burns during flapping flight and soaring/gliding flight.

A Full Tank of Fuel
The experimental monarchs started with 140 mg of stored fat. Dr. Gibo measured how long the monarch could fly with this amount of fuel.

Flapping Flight
Flapping flight is hard work. When a monarch flaps its wings it burns its fuel quickly. The experimental monarchs ran out of fuel after 44 hours of flight.

Soaring & Gliding Flight
When monarchs flew without flapping they could travel 1,060 hours on that single tank of fuel. Soaring/gliding flight is very efficient. Monarchs can travel almost 25 times longer on the same amount of fuel.

Flight Study Results
A monarch with 140 mg of fat to burn could fly for:
44 hours Flapping

1,060 hours

Soaring & Gliding

Wind and Migration
Dr. Gibo's study confirms why the wind is such an important factor during migration. Monarchs can save energy by traveling when the winds are favorable.

"The direction and strength of the winds largely determine the progress of the migration," says monarch biologist Dr. Bill Calvert.

Dr. David Gibo