The Monarch butterfly has a GPS capability… and a clock

Our monarch butterflies migrate from Prince William to Mexico every Fall. This week is normally the peak migration season for our area, according to Journey North.

To get to the single forest in Mexico where the insects over-winter, they need a compass and a clock.  The butterflies use the sun to determine direction – but because the sun moves throughout the day, the monarchs also need a clock.

After all, setting your path by the sun at 9:00am will send you in one direction, but if you fly at the same angle to the sun at 3:00pm you’ll end up going in a very different direction.  (Ask anyone who lives west of their job.  They commute east into the sun in the morning – and back home, into the sun again, in the evening.)

Scientists have just discovered that the biological clock that enables monarchs to use the sun as a compass is located in their antennae, not in their brain. Guess there really is something new under the sun, occasionally… (For more, see article in Wired.)


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