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However, the new study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , shows that these well-intentioned practices may not have the desired effect. It's a microcosm for what's happening naturally. Ayse Tenger-Trolander, a PhD student in Kronforst's lab and lead author of the new study, ordered several adult monarch butterflies from a commercial supplier and placed them in an outdoor garden on the rooftop of a building on the UChicago campus. The butterflies were enclosed in mesh cages but otherwise exposed to natural light, temperature and moisture.


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Monarchs breed during the summer and autumn, the autumn generation being the one that migrates. Tenger-Trolander collected eggs from the commercially purchased adults after they mated and raised them to adult butterflies. That summer generation then became the parents of the autumn generation.

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Tenger-Trolander then tested this autumn generation in a "flight simulator" to see the predominant direction they fly. The simulator is an open-ended, metal cylinder, like a pipe standing on one end. The butterfly is connected to a rod near the top opening of the cylinder by a metal pin, or tether, attached to its abdomen.

This makes the butterflies fly in place inside the cylinder, but they are free to rotate degrees.

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The rotating dial records the direction of the butterfly every two milliseconds and saves the data to a computer. Butterflies that exhibit migratory behavior should fly predominantly toward the south inside this flight simulator. The locally-captured monarchs raised in the same gardens did just that.

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However, Tenger-Trolander saw that the generation of butterflies bred from the commercial monarchs didn't fly in a dominant direction. Tenger-Trolander also performed a second set of experiments starting with only wild-caught monarchs and rearing the offspring completely inside. She tried to mimic outdoor conditions by adjusting temperature and the hours of daylight, but as a group, these butterflies did not show signs of migratory flight either. Some individuals did fly pointing south, but as a group they did not collectively fly predominantly in a southward direction.

The Butterfly Project

In fact, taking a chrysalis that had been developing outdoors and bringing it inside just as it was about to emerge also "broke" the migratory behavior in the group as a whole. But there could be an issue with the way they're raising them indoors too. Several populations of monarchs have dispersed throughout the world to Central and South America, the Caribbean, southern Europe, northern Africa and across the Pacific Ocean to Australia, but none of these new populations migrate like those in North America.

Kronforst and Tenger-Trolander also studied the genetic makeup of the commercially-bred butterflies to see how they differ from typical North American monarchs. Is the reason the commercial monarchs don't migrate because they originated from a newer, non-migrating population? The genetic analysis showed that the commercially-bred butterflies did originate from North America, but they are genetically different enough to count as distinct population, separate from North American or any of the other groups that made it to another continent.

Kronforst said he believes the loss of migration lies in these genetic discrepancies.

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The U. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether to list the North American monarch as a threatened species under the U. Our project gives them an economic alternative: full-time, decently paid work in forest conservation.

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The arborists pick up garbage, maintain trails and monitor wildlife. Additionally, the financial fortunes of four local families have improved. Effective forest protection on the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve is more crucial than ever. Since they began, the core protected area has lost 13 trees. We need funding to continue our commitment to our current workers and to expand the program so we can get that number down to zero.


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Help us keep the miracle of monarch migration from becoming a distant memory! By creating jobs for local people in forest and monarch butterfly conservation. If you found us because of our collaboration with the Monarch Ultra event, please add a note that says. ULTRA when you make your donation. Read more about this exciting project.