Fuel for a Far-fetched Flight

October 15, 2020

Monarch female on blue aster

Photographer: Rob Sheridan 
Summary Author: Rob Sheridan 

The multigenerational migration of the monarch remains one of the most wonderful and astounding mysteries of the insect world. During any given year, the first generation of late spring emerges from their chrysalis in central Mexico and flutters north. No single generation can do the long northerly migration, but generation by generation they progressively head north, feeding and laying eggs on milkweeds, each adult living only about 6 weeks, for 4 or 5 generations. In the late summer, the season’s final generation is born and begins the long flight home to warmer overwintering areas. This final migratory generation lives far longer than prior generations (up to 6 months) and completes the entire flight home from the northern range. Many fall to predators and lack of fuel. Certain specific late-season flowering plants feed them along their arduous journey. Prominent among these in the northeast United States is the New England blue aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), a late summer and fall bloomer rich with nectar, favored by the final generation of monarch-athletes. Shown here is one such migratory generation monarch fueling up on a blue aster, preparing to continue the long journey home.

Photo Details: Camera Apple iPhone 8; Software Windows Photo Editor 10.0.1; Exposure Time 0.0007s (1/1412); Aperture ƒ/1.8; ISO equivalent 20; Focal Length (35mm) 28