A Monarch butterfly is in a flower
A Monarch butterfly is in a flower in Los Angeles, California on October 28, 2010. The Monarch is famous for its southward migration and northward return in summer in the Americas which spans the life of three to four generations of the butterfly. GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

How do monarch butterflies travel so far?

Monarch butterflies are unique — they’re the only butterfly to travel thousands of miles when the seasons change. They travel from as far north as Canada all the way down to a few very specific mountaintops in central Mexico.

They don’t have a car, or an airplane ticket. They just have their two little wings. So we’re asking: How do they do it? How do they migrate thousands of miles? And why?

We’ll also look at why other insects don’t have to travel south for the winter — hint: it has to do with something in their blood. Of course, we have a mystery sound for you to decipher, too.

Butterfly incubator
A peek inside a refrigerator at the University of Minnesota Monarch Lab. They keep live monarchs inside envelopes in the fridge. They try to make the climate in the fridge like the mountaintops in Mexico where monarchs spend the winter. Molly Bloom
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Find out more about Flight of the Butterflies, the IMAX 3D film discussed in the show.

Be a citizen scientist!

By using your skills of observation you can help scientists figure out a lot about monarchs — like how many there are, when they’re migrating, and if they’re being attacked by parasites.

Here’s a list of places to get started:

• The nationwide The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project based at the University of Minnesota
• You can report your observations to Journey North about monarchs, and also hummingbirds, bald eagles and other wildlife
• Help the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County track monarchs, as well as spiders, geckos, zombie flys and ladybugs
• Collect samples of monarch parasites for MonarchHealth

Sound effects in this episode provided by freeSFX