Magnificent Monarch Migration

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The monarch butterfly is thought to have been potentially named in honor of various kings, both real (King William III of England) and fictional (Danaus, great-grandson of the Greek god Zeus). However, one could argue that it could easily be called “monarch” because of its migratory prowess — the king of migratory butterflies.

This beautiful orange, black, and white insect as a species can migrate vast distances, traveling from as far north as southern Canada down into Michoacán, Mexico — a trip that can span over 2,500 miles (or 80 million butterfly body lengths). To put this into perspective, a person of average height in the United States (roughly 5 feet 6.75 inches) would have to walk roughly 225,000 body lengths to reach San Antonio from McAllen.

Unlike a bird, the monarch butterfly is incapable of making the round-trip journey in its lifespan; it takes multiple generations. The last generation of the summer, the over-wintering generation, is the one that makes the long southward migration to Michoacán, Mexico. It then takes three to four subsequent generations (each usually living less than five weeks) to complete the journey north.

Scientists have often studied how monarchs make their incredible journeys, but there is still much to learn. We do know this, however: The North American monarch butterfly population has drastically declined — up to 90 percent  — over the past two decades. These declines are thought to be in part caused by loss of milkweed and nectar plant habitat, along with the use of pesticides.

There are ways to help the monarch, and national efforts like the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge are helping to spread the word. One of the easiest ways to help a monarch is by planting native milkweeds and native nectar plants in your yard, which also benefit all the other pollinators that are important for a healthy ecosystem.

At Quinta Mazatlan’s upcoming McAllen Monarch Festival — scheduled for 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 16 — there will be opportunities to learn more about monarchs and to purchase native plants to make a difference in your own backyard. Hope to see you there, and long live the monarch!