Why Don?t Cold Butterflies Fall?

Monarch Adaptations

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It is cold at the monach over-wintering sites in Mexico! It's sometimes so cold that the butterflies become paralyzed. They are unable to move their muscles. Why don?t the butterflies "lose their grip" and fall from the trees when they're paralyzed?

    This monarch's claws caught a moustache!

    Crampons Work Like Claws
    Photo: Alpine Woman

  • Think about this question before you read on...

"Monarchs have incredible claws,? says Dr. Bill Calvert. ?They are amazingly well adapted to hang on. Even though the butterflies are dormant, the claws hook on and the butterflies remain in the trees.

"But I have seen them fall. When they are too cold to open their wings, they float down--but with their claws extended--so they can grab something on the way down. You?ll see them catch on people?s heads, backs, clothing--everywhere.

These well-developed claws found are on their fore walking feet. In extremely cold weather there are descriptions of butterflies falling like bullets because they can?t even open their wings.?

Dr. Brower added, ?Often clusters of butterflies hang together with their claws interlocked. When one lets lose you may get a whole string of them coming down.?

Crampons Work Like Claws
Ice climbers wear crampons on their feet. Crampons help climbers to grip slippery ice. Notice how similar monarch claws are to crampons. People often design tools that look like things found in nature.


National Science Education Standards

  • Each plant or animal has different structures that serve different functions in growth, survival, reproduction. (K-4)
  • Living systems at all levels of organization demonstrate the complementary nature of structure and function. (5-8)
  • Biological adaptations include changes in structures, behaviors, or physiology that enhance survival and reproductive success in a particular environment. (5-8)