Sep. 18, 2012

Track the Monarch Migration Using Your iPhone!

by Leslie Taylor

Click to enlarge images
Depending where you live, you may have recently started to see an influx of orange and black winged visitors. The monarch butterflies have begun their fall migration. Millions upon millions of monarchs are leaving the temperate climes of North America and Canda where they were born and heading to the roosting spots along California's coast or in the mountains of Mexico where their great-great-grandparents mated last spring.

You can help scientists learn more about the monarch's incredible journey using a free app created by Journey North. The app lets you use your mobile device to report sightings of the colorful migrators, and the data collected will help scientists better understand the monarchs' complicated migration behavior.

Unlike whales or sea turtles -- species in which one individual makes the roundtrip seasonal migration many times over the course of its life -- it takes several generations of monarchs to perform the seasonal migration from the south to the north and back. Monarchs born in early spring live less than two months. They begin their journey northward, reproduce along the way, then die. Their children and their children's children continue pressing north until they reach their summer home. The last generation of monarchs born in late summer has a longer lifespan. They must make the mammoth journey to the overwintering site of their ancestors. There they will wait out the cold months, clustering together in trees, then in February or March, they will seek mates and the cycle will begin again.
In the video below, learn more about the monarch's migration journey and about the questions that still puzzle scientists as Donald G. McNeil Jr. visits a monarch butterfly tagging operation in Kansas.
For more about butterflies and moths, check out this interview from the Leonard Lopate show with Bob Robbins, Curator of Lepidoptera, Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, and Dr. Cole Gilbert, Associate Professor of Entomology at Cornell University.
More about monarchs at:
A map of this season's monarch sightings is at:
Find the peak time of the monarch migration in your location at:
More citizen science projects at:
About Leslie Taylor

Leslie is the online editor at and She has a background in oceanography and is passionate about getting non-scientists and young people to realize how cool science can be. She is also Science Friday's former web editor.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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