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?

Monarch Butterfly Spring Migration Nectaring in Texas

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?

Monarch Butterfly laying eggs on newly emerged milkweed
Early Arrival
David Laderoute
Monarch Butterfly laying eggs on newly emerged milkweed
Monarch Migration Maps
Rate of Advance

Final News from Mexico

Estela Romero
from Sierra Chincua

Ellen Sharp
from Cerro Pelon

Photo Gallery: Monarch Wings Over Time
Monarch Butterfly Wings Over Time: Image Gallery
Monarch Butterfly Wings Over Time: Journal

Image Gallery

By April, the overwintering monarchs have only a few weeks to live. Their wings have changed dramatically.


Use cause-effect sentence frames to describe what happens to monarch wings over time and why the changes happen.

Spring Migration 2017
Report all monarchs you see — adults, eggs, larvae.
Monarch butterfly migration map Monarch butterfly migration map Monarch butterfly migration map
What to Report Adults
report | map | list
report | map | list
Monarch butterfly migration map Map of milkweed emergence: Spring 2017 Monarch butterfly migration map
report | map | list
report | map | list
Other Observations
report | map | list
Next April 20, 2017