Demystifying Monarch Butterfly Migration

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Neurobiology; Reppert Lab

Publication Date


Document Type



Neuroscience and Neurobiology


Every fall, millions of North American monarch butterflies undergo a stunning long-distance migration to reach their overwintering grounds in Mexico. Migration allows the butterflies to escape freezing temperatures and dying host plants, and reduces infections with a virulent parasite. We discuss the multigenerational migration journey and its evolutionary history, and highlight the navigational mechanisms of migratory monarchs. Monarchs use a bidirectional time-compensated sun compass for orientation, which is based on a time-compensating circadian clock that resides in the antennae, and which has a distinctive molecular mechanism. Migrants can also use a light-dependent inclination magnetic compass for orientation under overcast conditions. Additional environmental features, e.g., atmospheric conditions, geologic barriers, and social interactions, likely augment navigation. The publication of the monarch genome and the development of gene-editing strategies have enabled the dissection of the genetic and neurobiological basis of the migration. The monarch butterfly has emerged as an excellent system to study the ecological, neural, and genetic basis of long-distance animal migration.


monarch butterflies, migration

DOI of Published Version



Curr Biol. 2018 Sep 10;28(17):R1009-R1022. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.02.067. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Current biology : CB

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID