While “navigation” systems in automobiles are a fairly new (and still costly) innovation, monarch butterflies have managed for millennia to navigate their way for a distance of some 3000 miles (4800 kilometers) each fall from Canada to Mexico (and vice-versa in the spring) without losing their way.
A typical monarch butterfly. photo courtesy of Scott Camazine (www.scottcamazine.com)
The phenomenon of long-range bird migration is a well-known one, but not in the insect world. Also, among birds their migration route is a round-trip one, which they make more than once in their lifetimes, while for the monarch it is strictly a one-way trip for each butterfly. How do these creatures do it?
The mystery of the mechanisms involved in this remarkable phenomenon has been resolved by a team of scientists who did this by exploring the infinitesimal butterfly brain and eye tissues to uncover new insights into the biological machinery that directs this delicate creature on its lengthy flight path.
Jerry Barach | alfa
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