You may have heard that, like birds, many species of butterflies migrate. Have you ever wondered which species do this, and why they do it? If so, you’ve come to the right place! Today we’re going to take a closer look at some of the butterflies that migrate.
What You'll Learn Today
Butterflies That Migrate
These butterflies cannot survive the cold of their northern climates, so they must migrate. Some of them travel as far as 3,000 miles from the northern U.S. and Canada to their overwintering grounds in Mexico.
What’s more, monarchs are the only butterflies in the world that migrate both ways. Most other species fly to their overwintering grounds in the fall, reproduce, and their offspring make the return trip the following spring.
Monarchs, however, survive throughout the entire winter by huddling together in trees of Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains, then set out to return to their native habitat the following spring. While most reproduce and die before completing the journey, the subsequent generations continue northward until they have reached the uppermost portions of their range.
Sulfurs are medium-sized yellow butterflies found widespread throughout the Americas. The cloudless sulfur, in particular, is known for migrating.
Cloudless sulfurs are found as far north as southern Canada, though most are found in the southern United States as well as Central and South America. Those found in northern parts of North America migrate toward warmer climates each fall.
The following spring, each new generation of butterflies spreads further north, expanding their territories as warmer weather returns. The fall migration is much more noticeable than this spring migration, as they migrate en masse during the fall.
3. Mourning Cloaks
These beautiful butterflies are found throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. The species as a whole is considered non-migratory, though some North American populations head south during the winter.
Both migratory and non-migratory mourning cloaks hibernate as adult butterflies through the cold winter months. Even those living in areas where they otherwise wouldn’t migrate may move on to other regions if the temperature drops too low or predator numbers go up.
4. Red Admirals
These pretty orange and black butterflies are found throughout temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. They are medium-sized butterflies with wingspans that can reach up to three inches.
Red admirals don’t have fixed migratory patterns or seasons; instead, they migrate for the sake of finding food. One of the foods they rely on most heavily is stinging nettle, which their larvae feed on.
Generally speaking, red admirals overwinter as eggs, then each successive generation of butterflies moves further north as the weather warms up.
5. Painted Ladies
Painted ladies are widely distributed throughout the world, and they are always on the move. Not only have they been known to migrate long distances over land, but also over oceans.
The migration routes of these butterflies appear to follow their food sources as well as changes in the weather. Many of their longest routes take multiple generations of the butterflies to complete.
Not only do painted ladies travel far, they travel at great speeds–they can fly as fast as 30 miles per hour.
Skippers are a family of mostly small butterflies. They come in many different species and can be found throughout the world.
Many species of skipper migrate. Some of these include the fiery skipper, the long-tailed skipper, and the clouded skipper.
The fiery skipper, in particular, is native to southern parts of the United States, but it moves north each spring and summer in search of better climates and food sources. It then returns to the south in the fall and winter.
The common buckeye is a medium-sized butterfly with brown wings and distinctive “eye” patterns on the wings. They are found throughout various regions of the Northern Hemisphere.
Buckeyes are most common in northern parts of their range during the summer, but they migrate to southern areas for the winter. They do this to escape the harsh winter further north.
Once the weather begins to warm again, they return to northern regions for the sake of escaping extreme heat in the south.
8. Gulf Fritillaries
Gulf fritillaries are medium-sized butterflies found in coastal regions of the United States, especially Florida, as well as parts of Central and South America.
These butterflies are not cold-tolerant; therefore, they must migrate to avoid harsh winter weather.
They fly south for the winter, sometimes across the Gulf of Mexico and other times across land. They overwinter in areas where temperatures do not get below freezing.
In the spring, they return to their native habitats.
9. Caper Whites
Caper white butterflies are primarily found in Australia and parts of Asia. These pretty medium-sized butterflies travel some serious distances, and it isn’t always understood why.
Caper whites can travel distances of up to 3,000 miles–but they don’t always migrate. In fact, large caper white migrations are only thought to happen every six to ten years on average.
It isn’t fully known why these butterflies migrate, though environmental factors most likely play a large role.
To add even more mystery, they often migrate to areas where there are no host plants for their larvae. This phenomenon remains unexplained.
10. Zebra Longwings
Zebra longwings are found widespread throughout Central America. They have wide wingspans relative to their body size and alternating black-and-white stripe patterns on their wings–hence the name.
These butterflies tend to migrate further north during the summer before returning south when the weather cools down. Sometimes their summer migrations will take them as far north as central regions of the United States.
Check out this video to learn more about zebra longwing butterflies:
There are thousands of butterfly species in the world, and many of them migrate for various reasons. As you can tell, this article contains only a partial list of these butterflies.
Some of these migrating butterflies include monarchs, skippers, buckeyes, sulfurs, and caper whites.