The Monarch butterfly is known for both its astonishing bright colors and its migration pattern.
(Mirror Daily, United States) – Every year thousands of Monarch butterflies start to migrate south, towards Mexico. The winged insects take over the sky and envelop the fields they pass through with their extraordinary colors. But their yearly trip was a mystery to scientists, at least, until now. A team of researchers managed to crack the migration pattern of the Monarch butterfly.
According to a study that was recently published in the Cell Reports journal, the colorful insect has an internal clock that guides it towards Mexico each year. The migration instinct is inherited from generation to generation, exactly like in the case of birds. The butterflies are born with the instinct of leaving towards warmer lands when the time comes.
In order to better understand the workings of the Monarch butterfly’s internal clock, the team of scientists replicated the way in which their antennae work. A team of researchers from the Massachusetts, Washington, and Michigan universities managed to crack the migration pattern of the Monarch butterfly by replicating the way in which neural information is transmitted from their antennae to their brain.
The researchers already knew that the insects were most likely using the position of the sun and the time of day to navigate their way across the countries, but they weren’t sure how this data was gathered and processed by the colorful butterflies.
They started their research from the insect’s antennae. It was obvious to them that the Monarch butterflies were probably using a sort of internal clock mechanism, exactly like humans. And since the majority of insects use their antennae to navigate and sense their environment, exactly like felines use their whiskers, the researchers started by analyzing and recreating the neural signals that passed through the external organs.
It seems that the previously mentioned organs are indeed used by the butterflies to keep track of the time of day. They also use their eyes to establish the position of the Sun and determine which way is south.
What is even more fascinating about these migratory insects is the fact that they all come back after winter is gone and the United States warm up again.
The researchers that cracked the migration pattern of the monarch butterfly say that their return journey is probably embedded in their genetic code, exactly like the trip south. When the time comes, their internal clock adjusts so that they can figure out which way is north.
But the study is far from being over. The team declared that there are still much more things to learn about the migratory butterflies and that they will continue their research.
Image source: Wikimedia