Continental Nomads: Monarch Butterflies

The migration story of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) is an epic adventure that spans generations and thousands of miles.
At the start of the summer breeding season, monarchs leave their winter habitat in the oyamel fir forests of Mexico, and a scattering of locations in California, to begin a northward journey that may take two months to complete. During their journey, monarchs live for only two to five weeks. En route, these tiny nomads mate, lay their eggs on certain types of milkweed plants, and die, leaving it to the next generation to continue another stage of the northbound expedition. The last generation of a breeding season (which lives for as long as nine months) must then attempt to complete the entire journey in reverse and return to their winter habitat.
Map showing Monarch butterly Fall migration patterns
This map shows monarch butterfly fall migration patterns.

NPS

Last updated: June 5, 2017

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