Captive-reared migratory monarch butterflies show natural orientation when released in the wild.

  • January 25, 2020
  • by Wilcox, A. A., Newman, A. E., Raine, N. E., & Norris, D. R. (2020).


Eastern North American migratory monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) have faced sharp declines over the last two decades. Although captive rearing has been used as an important tool for engaging the public and supplementing conservation efforts, a recent study that tested monarchs in a flight simulator suggested that captive-reared monarchs lose their capacity to orient southward during fall migration to their Mexican overwintering sites. We raised offspring of wild-caught monarchs on swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and, after eclosion, individuals were either tested in a flight simulator or radio-tracked in the wild using array of over 100 automated telemetry towers. While only 33% (7/39) of monarchs tested in the flight simulator showed strong southeast to southwest orientation, 97% (28/29) of the radio-tracked individuals were detected by automated towers south or southeast of the release site, up to 200 km away. Our results suggest that, though captive rearing of monarch butterflies may cause temporary disorientation, proper orientation is likely re-established after exposure to natural skylight cues.