One of earth’s most amazing migrations is about to take place.
If you think leaves have started turning orange far sooner than usual this week, don’t be alarmed. North America’s monarch butterflies have begun their annual migration down to Mexico and will be fluttering through Chicago this weekend.
Every year, after spending summer breeding in Canada, the orange and black butterflies begin their journey south in September making their way through Chicago, the Mississippi Valley, and Texas before arriving in Mexico to see out winter.
Their impressive long-distance migration across many states is the reason the colorful winged insects are not just Illinois’s state insect but also the state insect of Alabama, Idaho, Minnesota, Texas, Vermont, and West Virginia. This year, however, the migration takes on even more poignancy after the monarch butterfly was listed as endangered over the summer.
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature – the world’s most comprehensive scientific authority on the status of species – the butterfly’s population has shrunk by more than 85% since 1990. In July, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature consequently officially added the North American monarch butterfly to its Red List of Threatened Species for the first time.
Luckily for Chicagoans, they will still be able to spot thousands of monarch butterflies fluttering across the city over the next few days while the monarch migration in the area peaks.
The migration is remarkable not just for the spectacle the monarchs put on but for the sheer length of their journey. With a wingspan of approximately 9 – 11 cm (4 inches) and a weight equivalent to that of a paper clip, the monarch can fly up to 2,700 miles. According to monarchconservation.org, with the same weight to distance ratio, that would be the same as a robin flying to the moon and most of the way back.
In Chicago, the best places to see the monarchs are usually along the lakefront since they tend to fly along coastlines and particularly at Museum Campus though monarchs will likely be seen in most of Chicago’s parks and anywhere with flowers.
The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and Chicago Academy of Sciences host an annual Flutter Into Fall festival celebrating the monarch migration. Hordes of monarchs come to the museum’s butterfly haven while monarch-related activities, crafts, and talks take place throughout the day.
There will also be guided plant & bug walks and monarch tagging sessions so you can see how far a monarch you encountered this year travels.
This year’s Flutter Into Fall will take place tomorrow, Saturday, September 10, from 10 am until 2 pm and entry is included with museum admission.
More information can be found at naturemuseum.org/flutter-into-fall.
[Featured image from Shutterstock]