Monarch Butterfly Migration

The annual Monarch Butterfly migration is a silent wonder of nature. Every fall, all the monarch butterflies in North America east of the Rockies head down to Mexico to spend the winter. Some may fly as far as 3000 miles, an incredible distance for a fragile insect to travel. Each day they travel 50 to 100 miles alone, but at sunset they come together in groups and rest in trees for the night. Each fall, we look for monarchs in the trees in the evenings, and are sometimes lucky enough to find large groups of them all hanging out together resting.

But what is truly amazing is that these butterflies have never made the trip before, and no one can tell them how to get there either. In fact they are at least 3 generations removed from the group of butterflies that migrated north from Mexico in the spring.

So here’s the deal. Monarchs only live about 2 months. Each summer sees 3 or 4 generations of monarchs. But the last generation of the summer, has a lifespan of about 7 months.

They start the long trip south starting in August and arriving in Mexico in late October. And not just anywhere in Mexico, but the same 12 mountain areas in the states of Mexico and Michoacan.

They roost on the trees, as many as 10,000 per tree, and conserve energy through the winter.  In February, they reproduce, and then die. Their young then make the long trip back up into North America in the spring.

Through the summer, several generations pass, and then in the fall it starts all over again with the great-great-great-great-grandkids of the spring generation making the migration south.

So how do they know that they need to migrate, and how do they know how to get there? Even science doesn’t know for sure.

Truly an incredible journey. For more information about monarch butterflies and their fascinating migration, you can visit this website.


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40 Responses

  1. Rebecca says:

    We saw hundreds of them Saturday. It was the first time I’ve ever seen that many of them! It was amazing. =)

    • Suzanne says:

      Hi Rebecca,
      We’ve not been seeing too many of them this year. Where were you on Sat? I’ve never seen that many either.

  2. It is one of those amazing mysteries of nature!!!!

    A very beautiful one to witness.

    • Suzanne says:

      Hi Gardener,
      Isn’t it though? And a part of me hopes that they never find out how the monarchs do it. We need some mystery in our lives to ponder.

  3. SuzanneC says:

    You can also “tag” monarch butterflies in Lawrence KS.
    Check out the site!

  4. Shonneky says:

    For some reason I have just been so drawn to butterflies lately! I’m so glad to see you post about them. Nature is so amazing and miraculous. Beautiful pics by the way. Thanks.

  5. Teresa says:

    I was lucky enough to have them spend a night in my pasture a couple of weeks ago. They are truly beautiful! Your pictures are perfect!

    I just wanted to mention that I really appreciate the link to my blog on your sidebar, but the address has changed. It is

    • Suzanne says:

      Hi Teresa,
      Oh wow, how lucky are you? How do they know to all congregate on the same trees when they stop for the night. Do they call each other on their cell phones I wonder? 🙂

      (I just changed your site address in my links. Sorry about that. )

  6. Granny J says:

    Heavenly Father’s creation/s are truly awesome! Thanks for sharing.

  7. LesleyAnn says:

    Scientists may not know who tells them to migrate but I know the One who tells them. 🙂 Beautiful photos.

  8. Glenda says:

    I’m with some others who have commented on the Source of the monarchs knowing where to go and what to do. How can anyone witness this miracle of God and not believe? Thanks for the photos and the story. I had no idea there were that many generations of monarchs in a single season.

  9. That is some really interesting information about Monarchs! I never knew about any of that. I didn’t even know they migrate. What a wonderful thing to witness! I would love to see that!

    • Suzanne says:

      Hi Bonnie,
      I didn’t know about the monarch migration until just a few years ago, and now every fall I watch for them. Fun!

  10. Lee Ann L. says:

    I love butterflies. The Monarchs has always intrigued me.

    There was a show (or a blurb) on one of those Discovery channels (or the like) eons ago about the Monarchs and I found it all fascinating. The forests in Mexico where they hibernate over the winter is shrinking and that makes me feel sad.

    We had some Monarchs at Garner State park and we managed to capture a few with our camera. I just haven’t gotten around to posting those pictures. Soon.

    • Suzanne says:

      Hi Lee Ann,
      I used to pick milkweed leaves with monarch eggs attached, raise the caterpillars, and then watch as the butterflies hatched. Really neato.

  11. Mary in Idaho says:

    Thanks for your beautiful pictures and very informative narrative. Our hummingbirds just migrated south about two weeks ago. I’m awed that my Heavenly Father’s creation contains so many perfectly working finite details.

  12. So pretty, my son and his class tagged and released 7 of them this year. They hope they will get some reports on their location during the migration south.

    I will show him these pictures…


  13. Melanie says:

    We also tagged our sitings on monarch watch. We witnessed a HUGE “flock” of them this past weekend–the coolest thing was that my 7 year old was the one to spot them first!! Amazing stuff for sure!

    • Suzanne says:

      Hi Melanie,
      Not seeing so many of them here these days. They must all be further south of us on their journey, and good thing too as we are supposed to get a freeze next week.

  14. Peggy says:

    Hi Suzanne. That is so amazing! I would love to see that in real life. On of thoes “stop and smell the roses” moments. So in the spring is there a migration comming back!

    • Suzanne says:

      Hi Peggy,
      In the spring it’s a little different as the lifespans of the summer monarchs are only 2 months. So the 1st generation makes it a little way north, and then the next generation makes it a little further north, etc. It’s only the fall generation that lives 7 months and makes the entire trip themselves.

  15. Stephanie says:

    Thanks for sharing this discovery. These photos are so exceptional. Normally I see butterfly sipping nectar from flower. Not butterflies ‘hang out’ at a tree together like this. Thanks for the good info/explanation 😀

  16. GinMT says:

    Terrific photos, Suzanne! Have never seen this before, what a spectacular sight!


  17. Shailaja says:

    It must be so thrilling to see so many butterflies at one location. The place where I live lies in the path of migration of the Dark Blue Tiger from the southern parts of Asia to the Western Ghat mountain ranges in India, usually in November. But we only get to see them in groups, not hordes like your monarchs.

  18. Joani says:

    Beautiful butterflies. There have been some in my area but not like this.

  19. Sharon says:

    This is simply amazing. I had no idea about this, so thanks for the education. And the great photos.

  20. Benjamin says:

    I’ve been catching up on your blog this evening–why I don’t stop by more often is a wonder. I’ve never heard of Brownville, NE, and thought not too far away I’d love to visit and see the reenactment, visit the galleries… now I have to wait a year! I don’t know if I’ve ever shared an article on monarchs I published in a regional leftish newspaper, but here it is if yer bored:

    • Suzanne says:

      Hi Benjamin,
      Thanks for stopping by again, welcome back. Great article about the monarchs. Thanks for sharing.

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