Return to the Wild - Evolving perspectives on Canadian wildlife
The monarch butterfly has been recorded in all of Canada's ten provinces.

Did you know?

The monarch possibly has the longest insect migration in North America, travelling up to 4,000 kilometres a year.

Scientific name: Danaus plexippus
Average weight: 1.5 g (caterpillar)
0.4 g (butterfly)
Average wingspan: 93–105 mm
Average lifespan: 6–8 weeks (summer generation)
6–8 months (winter generation)
A monarch butterfly perches on top of a flower.

Our changing understanding

Where do eastern monarch butterflies migrate in winter? This has been one of the most puzzling scientific mysteries to crop up in the pages of Canadian Geographic over the years. The monarchs west of the Rockies were known to migrate to California. Yet when it came to finding the winter home of the eastern black and orange winged insects, researchers were continually flummoxed.

But it was not for lack of effort. One article notes that hundreds of thousands of eastern monarch butterflies were painstakingly tagged with tiny identification stickers, but only 130 were recovered — in Mexico. However, another article in the early 1990s details how the question was finally answered in January 1975: by an American and his wife based in Mexico who were helping a scientist and his wife based in Ontario.

Toronto zoologist Fred Urquhart spent 40 years searching out the butterflies’ winter haven. The 130 recovered tags had pointed the way to Mexico, but it’s a big country. His break came when his fellow butterfly hunter and wife Norah wrote an article describing their quest that was published in a Mexican newspaper. Soon, a field officer, Fred Brugger was hired in Mexico and, aided by his Mexican wife Cathy and some of the locals, he discovered one of the dozen or so monarch wintering spots just west of Mexico City.

These monarchs are sedentary during the 8 to 10 months they spend in Mexico, unlike the monarch butterflies in Central and South America, which remain active when they overwinter. The discovery of the site led to an increase in our knowledge of the flying patterns of the magnificent monarch. It also prompted the Mexican government to provide provisional protection to the area.