Smokies Wildlife - Monarch On The Wings

     The Monarch butterfly - a burnish leaf that glides upon the wind, on wings of orange fire beneath the sun. A monarch (Danaus plexipus) can be easily recognized by deep red-brown wings that are veined and bordered in black; rows of white spots edge its fragile shimmery wings. But beyond its beauty, the monarch has another side - in autumn, flocks of these graceful butterflies migrate south, to Mexico, where they rest throughout the winter. Some monarchs fly all the way from Canada, making their journey a staggering 3000 miles in only a short time. 

     Until February, tree limbs in the warm Mexican climate hang decorated with the orange and black colors of monarch colonies. Then, in March (when mating occurs), the group arises, and migration back to the north begins. How does the monarch find its way, to and fro on these vast wonderings? Though not exactly understood, scholars believe this butterfly uses natural landmarks, such as the mountains and rivers, to guide them to their destination. 

     In autumn, once again, the monarchs sense that it is time to migrate south. Perhaps it is the colder temperature, or maybe the dimming sunlight that sets the journey into motion. No one knows for sure. But what is known is that these young monarchs who will migrate into Mexico are the third or fourth generation of those who flew south the year before. 

     Watch the autumn skies for a faraway hint of orange wings, as the last of the migrating monarch make their mystic journey southward, passing through the Smoky Mountains.