Monarch Butterflies

Do Butterflies Migrate? Where Do They Go?

Have you heard of the Monarch butterfly migration? Well, other butterflies migrate too! There are many other species of butterflies that also migrate.  For example, the Painted Lady, Common Buckeye, American Lady, Red Admiral, Cloudless Sulphur, Skipper, Sachem, Question Mark, Clouded Skipper, Fiery Skipper, and Mourning Cloak are all butterflies that migrate as well. 

There are different reasons why butterflies will migrate toward other places. Did you know that all butterflies are cold-blooded creatures? They simply can not handle the colder weather so have to travel somewhere warmer. They also need to stay where their food source is if its winter and there are no flowers, they can not stay there.  

If weather changes are not a problem, like for the butterflies in the tropics, butterflies will often migrate away in order to establish new colonies. The reason for this is that if they stay in one place for too long, the butterfly caterpillars will consume all of their food in that one area, and so the butterflies will starve to death. So migrating to new places will ensure their survival and their food source.  

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Monarch butterflies are not able to survive the cold winters of most of the United States so they migrate south and west each autumn to escape the cold weather. The monarch migration usually starts in about October of each year, but can start earlier if the weather turns cold sooner than that. 

Black Swallowtail butterfly perching

The monarch butterflies will spend their winter hibernation in Mexico and some parts of Southern California where it is warm all year long. If the monarch lives in the Eastern states, usually east of the Rocky Mountains, it will migrate to Mexico and hibernate in oyamel fir trees. If the monarch butterfly lives west of the Rocky Mountains, then it will hibernate in and around Pacific Grove, California in eucalyptus trees. Monarch butterflies use the very same trees each and every year when they migrate, which seems odd because they aren�t the same butterflies that were there last year. These are the new fourth generation of monarch butterflies, so how do they know which trees are the right ones to hibernate in? Monarch butterflies are the only insect that migrates to a warmer climate that is 2,500 miles away each year. 

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Monarchs Hibernating
‘Monarch Butterflies Migrate Each Fall and Like To Hibernate In Certain Trees In Groups

The Monarch butterfly migrates for 2 reasons. They can not withstand freezing weather in the northern and central continental climates in the winter. Also, the larval food plants do not grow in their winter overwintering sites, so the spring generation must fly back north to places where the plants are plentiful. Would you like to help track monarch butterfly migrations? Visit Monarchwatch for lots of information on tracking migrations with a color map. 


The monarch overwintering sites are under threat because of people cutting down their favorite trees to build roads, houses and farms. What will happen to the monarchs if they do not have their special trees to spend the winter? There are groups that collect money to save the important trees and educate people about monarch conservation. You can learn more about helping monarchs here.

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