A Monarch is Never Late

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The astonishing navigational abilities of the monarch butterfly seem all the more astonishing in the light of new research.

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The researchers were not studying butterfly antennae when they began their work—learning more about how the orange-and-black insects emerge and migrate from Canada and the U.S. to spend each winter in Mexico. But as it turns out, the monarch’s antennae are crucial to finding their way back home.

The new study, published in Science, discusses one the butterflies’ biological clocks—which is, unexpectedly, located in the butterflies’ antennae rather than in their brains (though other biological clocks exist in the monarch’s brain.1 The antennae clocks help the butterflies compensate for the movement of the sun as the day passes.

The discovery occurred after the researchers clipped some laboratory butterflies’ antennae off, then observed the monarchs’ confusion as they all “flew in random directions.” Later, they coated some of the lab butterflies’ antennae with black paint, then observed as the altered butterflies flew in the wrong direction.

ScienceNOW quotes University of Kansas insect ecologist Orley Taylor, who noted, “The deeper they dig, the more they find out about how complicated this system is.” Despite this discovery, many questions linger about how the monarchs complete their incredible journey. What we know is that the monarch is one of God’s most astonishing—and beautiful—designs.

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Footnotes

  1. Christine Merlin, Robert J. Gegear, and Steven M. Reppert, “Antennal Circadian Clocks Coordinate Sun Compass Orientation in Migratory Monarch Butterflies,” Science 325, no. 5948 (September 25, 2009): 1700–1704, doi:10.1126/science.1176221.

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