Animals, Science

Unlocking The Mysteries Of The Monarch Butterfly’s Incredible Journey

Image: Didier Descouens
The Monarch butterfly. Image: Didier Descouens

Every year, Monarch butterflies fly more than 4,000 kilometres from Canada to Mexico.

Until recently, no-one was sure how the Monarch butterfly knew the exact path to take that would ensure it would end up at its intended destination after such a long flight.

Now Canadian scientists believe they have discovered the secret to the butterfly’s internal sense of direction.

Scientists wanted to know if the Monarchs used a type of “internal compass” or an “internal map.” Some animals and birds have both.

To find out, researchers put Monarch butterflies through a test.

Ryan Norris, an associate professor of biology at the University of Guelph, created a device that made the butterflies think they were flying from Guelph, Ontario (their usual starting place) and then again from Calgary, Alberta.

When they tested from Guelph, the Monarchs flew southwest, which is the right way to get to Mexico from Ontario.

When they tested from Calgary, the butterflies still went southwest. But from Calgary, in order to get to Mexico they should have gone southeast.

The experiment showed that the butterflies only used their built-in “compass,” that is set to the Earth’s relationship to the Sun, and not a built-in “map.”

Ryan Norris is a researcher at the University of Guelph.
Ryan Norris is a researcher at the University of Guelph.

Even with these new discoveries, the Monarch migration is “still steeped in mystery,” says Drew Monkman, a Peterborough, Ont.-based naturalist and author of the book “Nature’s Year in Central and Eastern Ontario.”He told TKN in an email that “science does not yet have all the answers.” He said young people should get involved in science to help unlock some of the mysteries. “Kids shouldn’t think that everything has been discovered and is fully understood,” he said. “There are still fascinating research careers to be had and discoveries to be made in the future.”Related links
This excellent article in the Globe and Mail details some of the recent butterfly research.

By Jonathan Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
Drew Monkman explained, “There are still fascinating research careers to be had and discoveries to be made in the future.” If you were a scientific researcher, what area would you like to study? What is one question you would like to answer? Why is this an important question?

Reading Prompt: Purpose
There are many reasons why people read. Why might someone want to read today’s article? What type of people would be the most interested in today’s story? Today’s article would be relevant (meanigful) to what careers?

Primary, Junior, & Intermediate
Identify a variety of purposes for reading and choose reading materials appropriate for those purposes (OME, Reading: 1.2).

Grammar Feature: KNowledge
Today’s article is all about gaining knowledge. So let’s take a second to learn about the word knowledge itself. So, what is knowledge? Wikipedia explains that one definition of knowledge is any statement that is justified, true, and believed. However, many others have argued against this. In fact, philosophers still discuss what knowledge is, how knowledge is gained, and the limits of understanding. They call it, epistemology.

One thing I know, is that knowledge is a tricky word to spell! There are over 100 words that start with the letters “kn.”

How many do you know?