August 23 – Your Majesty!

Today’s factismal: The fall migration of monarch butterflies is underway!

It is no secret that monarch butterflies are amazing. Every year, monarchs fly from Mexico to the Great Lakes and back, taking four generations to complete the trip! And it is no secret that they are beautiful. With their bold colors (to warn predators of their nasty taste) and their beautiful wings (to fly gently from flower to flower as they migrate), they are one of the most distinctive butterflies around. But what may be a secret (unless you’re an entomologist) is that monarchs often carry passengers!

A Monarch butterfly flock in migration  (Image courtesy Journey North)

A Monarch butterfly flock in migration (Image courtesy Journey North)

Not that they intend to; these passengers are a type of protozoan parasite known as Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, or OE to its friends (of which it has none). OE does more than hitch a ride with monarchs; it also breeds in their guts, taking up valuable real estate and stealing nutrients from the host butterfly. And OE is anything but picky; some 30% of all monarch butterflies have it. But nature is subtle and often fights back in unusual ways. Because there are different subgroups of monarch butterflies, it is possible that some of them are more resistant to the parasite than others – that a natural immunity has developed.

But the only way to tell that is to sample all of the different groups of monarch butterflies. Given that their migration pattern covers most of North America, it is obvious that researchers alone can’t do the job. But you can! The scientists at Project Monarch Health are looking for people to help them sample monarch butterflies to see if they have OE spores on their stomachs. If you’d like to tickle the tummy of a butterfly for science, then head over to their website:
http://www.monarchparasites.org/

2 thoughts on “August 23 – Your Majesty!

  1. Pingback: January 6 – Good News, Bad News, Butterfly News | Little facts about science

  2. Pingback: February 10 – Walking On Air | Little facts about science

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