Science

The Mystery Of Monarch Butterfly Migrations

Every year, hundreds of millions of Monarch butterflies migrate across the North American continent, first from central Mexico, and then all the way back again. The migration can span upwards of 3,000 miles.

The process of this journey has amazed scientists for years, because the lifespan of a Monarch butterfly is only about 2 to 6 weeks. The migration north takes so long that it requires four or five generations of Monarch butterflies to accomplish.

That means the migration is longer than the lifespan of a single Monarch. And so the migration is a cycle, with Monarchs dying along the way, and new ones born to continue forward knowing exactly where to go. Call it instinct.

In fact, many wonder if there isn’t a kind of genetic memory at work, something hardwired or programmed within them that guides their actions toward their goal. This is something that exists in many animals, possibly even humans, like the bird’s ability to build a nest, or the turtle’s compulsion to bask on a sunny day.

In the case of the Monarch butterfly, this comes in the form of “internal clocks” within their brains. One is a circannual clock, which measures annual cycles, and the other is essentially a built-in solar compass.

After the journey north, the Monarch butterflies lay new eggs, which create a new generation of Monarchs that live much longer, and are able to make the journey back home to central Mexico in a single generation. This is called a monarch super generation.

Monarch Butterfly Symbolism

Monarch butterflies are a fairly remarkable species, and have come to represent many things throughout history.

According to Save Our Monarchs, a foundation dedicated to the preservation of Monarch Butterflies, the Monarch is a symbol that takes on many meanings throughout various cultures. The Native Americans, for example, viewed Monarchs as a symbol of abundance and plenty.

As butterflies also go through metamorphosis, they are also seen as a symbol of transformation. In certain religions, like Christianity, they are symbols of spiritual transformation and rebirth.

Other Butterfly Symbolism In Media

Throughout popular culture, the butterfly has also taken on different meanings.

Both Bioshock 1 & 2 deal heavily with themes of mind control, and especially genetic modification in the form of Plasmids and, in Bioshock Infinite, Vigors. In Bioshock 2, the symbol of the game’s antagonist, Sophia Lamb, is the blue morpho butterfly. In short, she wanted to use mind control to create an altruistic Utopian society.

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Image: Bioshock 2 (2010)

In Ladytron’s music video for White Elephant, note the butterfly masks, and the shattering mirrors, likely symbolizing transformation.

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Image: Ladytron’s White Elephant video

Rob Schwarz

Rob Schwarz is a writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Editor-in-chief of Stranger Dimensions.