Discovery of the super gene that makes the Monarch butterfly migration possible

 

Tony Hakim's Monarch butterfly migration

Millions of the Monarch butterflies make this incredible journey. Via Tony Hakim

If you haven’t heard of the Monarch butterfly migration, you need to check out some footage now! This natural event is breathtaking to see. Tony Hakim is in awe of the massive journey that these butterflies make, and now scientists have made a discovery of the super gene that makes the Monarch butterfly migration possible.

The Monarch butterfly makes one of the most impressive journeys of the animal kingdom. During the autumn months of every year, they fly an approximate 4,800km from Canada to Mexico. They do this in order to escape the harsh winter of Canada so that they are able to hibernate in the cool forests of the Mariposa Monarca Biosphere Reserve in Mexico.

Tony Hakim's Monarch butterfly migration

The Monarch butterflies hang in bunches from the branches whilst they hibernate. Via Tony Hakim

It seems unbelievable that such small and delicate creatures are able to make such a long journey, which is why scientists have looked into what makes it possible. The discovery of a single gene in the Monarch butterflies genetic make-up is what is responsible for their ability to travel such a large distance. This gene was discovered by comparing non-migratory butterflies to the Monarch butterflies’ genome. The gene is responsible for producing collagen that makes up the butterflies’ wings. Collagen is one of the main components in forming connective tissue. This gene is essential for flight muscle and allows the butterflies’ energy expenditure to be less so that they are able to travel long distances. Other non-migratory butterflies did not have this gene and their muscles are designed more for sprinting than endurance.

Tony Hakim's Monarch butterfly migration

The Monarch butterfly has a unique gene that allows them to travel long distances. Via Tony Hakim

Another discovery that was made in this study is that the numbers of Monarch butterflies making this migration have dropped considerably. Back in 1996 there were about one billion butterflies that made the journey to Mexico, but in this last year only approximately 35 million were said to have arrived. This significant drop in numbers is most likely due to habitat loss, climate change and pesticides.

Hopefully with some effective conservation plans in place, we will be able save these amazing butterflies. Here at Tony Hakim, we are definitely putting a trip to Mexico on our bucket list to check out this incredible event.

Tony Hakim's Monarch butterfly migration

Their orange colour is to warn predators of their toxicity. Via Tony Hakim

Sources

ABC Science, National Geographic

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