Radio-tracking reveals how wind and temperature influence the pace of daytime insect migration.

  • July 3, 2019
  • by Samantha M. Knight, Grace M. Pitman, D. T. Tyler Flockhart & D. Ryan Norris

Insects represent the most diverse and functionally important group of flying migratory animals around the globe, yet their small size makes tracking even large migratory species challenging. We attached miniaturized radio transmitters (less than 300 mg) to monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) and common green darner dragonflies (Anax junius) and tracked their autumn migratory movements through southern Ontario, Canada and into the United States using an automated array of over 100 telemetry towers. The farthest estimated distance a monarch travelled in a single day was 143 km at a wind-assisted groundspeed of 31 km h−1 (8.7 m s−1) and the farthest estimated distance a green darner travelled in a single day was 122 km with a wind-assisted groundspeed of up to 77 km h−1 (21.5 m s−1). For both species, increased temperature and wind assistance positively influenced the pace of migration, but there was no effect of precipitation. While limitations to tracking such small animals remain, our approach and results represent a fundamental advance in understanding the natural history of insect migration and environmental factors that govern their movements.