Migrating Insects

Did you know that some insects fly south for the winter? Why do you think this would help them survive? Late summer is a good time to learn about migrating insects. Try some of the activities below: 

According to the University of Michigan's Animal Diversity Web page on butterflies, there are over 200 kinds of butterflies that migrate. The most famous of these is the monarch butterfly. Eastern monarchs fly all the way to Mexico in the fall and hibernate there. On the way, they eat flower nectar.

In the spring, these butterflies start traveling north but they do not get all the way back to New York or Canada. They stop and lay eggs and then they die. The eggs hatch and the larvae feed on milkweed leaves, and grow. Once they are adult butterflies, they fly farther north. Before they die, they stop and lay eggs.

Traveling like this, over several generations, it is mid to late summer before monarchs get back to northern United States and Canada. The butterflies that grow up from the eggs these butterflies lay will fly all the way back to Mexico in the fall.

Monarch Watch is an organization that studies and shares information about monarch butterflies. Their website has great pictures and information.

Watch on sunny days for monarch butterflies. Do you see any stopping at flowers for food? Do you see any visiting milkweed plants to lay eggs? Can you find any of their striped caterpillars? Do you see any monarchs flying south? If you do, watch for a while and count how many you see.

There are other insects that migrate. Some dragonflies migrate. They also guard territories to keep other dragonflies from hunting insects too near. Watch near a pond or even in a backyard for dragonflies flying high above the ground and diving at other dragonflies. Dragonflies lay their eggs in water. Look for two dragonflies flying attached together that dip down to the surface of the water to lay eggs.

In the fall, larger kinds of dragonflies are seen following the same mountain ridges and shores as migrating hawks.

You could do your own dragonfly migration watch by looking out over a soccer field or other open area and counting the dragonflies that you see flying past in one direction. Does it matter which way you look? Does the weather matter? Do you see more on a windy day than on a still day? Scientists don't know very much about dragonfly migration. You could help figure out some of the mystery.
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