Monarch Butterfly Migration

Thanks to the nice weather, I worked out in the yard for a good bit last weekend. As I worked, I saw and heard our normal back yard wildlife — feisty squirrels, black-capped chickadees, house finches, Northern flickers, dragonflies and big yellow swallow-tail butterflies. Then I saw something unusual — an orange butterfly. I assumed it was a Viceroy, because it flew right past the big patches of milkweed we’ve let grow for the Monarchs that might wander through our yard (Bees and Butterflies).

Then I saw another. And another. None of them were landing anywhere in the yard, but I decided to try to photograph them anyway. Maybe one would alight just long enough for me to snap a shot.

As I watched them more closely,  I began to have a niggling feeling that maybe I should check my butterfly identification books. In the meantime, I took a few photos.

Monarchs are orange with black stripes. They differ from very similar Viceroys in that Viceroys have a stripe along their lower wing. Otherwise, they are almost identical. So the photo on the left, taken in our back yard, is a Monarch! I’m glad it stopped by.

Starting in March, Monarchs migrate from Mexico and Southern California to Canada every year, reaching their northern limits in late June. We get our first Monarchs about the same time.

monarch on milkweed (9)-1
Monarch feeding on milkweed in our backyard.

There are lots of astonishing facts about Monarch and Viceroy butterflies. One fact about the Monarchs is that, although they migrate long distances every summer, no one butterfly goes the whole distance. Instead, the overwintering generation heads north in early spring. They mate, lay their eggs and die somewhere along the way. The next generation of monarchs hatch and head north. They mate, lay their eggs and die somewhere along the way. It takes at least four generations to get to the northern-most point in the Monarch migration! The fourth generation then makes the return trip south, and overwinters in the same trees its ancestors did last year. As with other butterfly species (Painted Ladies migrate across North America!), nobody knows how they do it.

You can watch Monarchs as they travel at this website: Lerner Monarch Butterfly Migration Map Spring 2018. They even have a site where you can report your observations! What to Report



Published by Amy Law

Amy Law is a science geek. She feels about science the way some people feel about music, or art, or sports – a total and complete emotional connection. She thinks in science. For Amy, there’s nothing better than helping people see the beauty of science as she does. She loves to untangle a complicated subject into its parts, explaining it so that anybody can understand what’s happening. Let her show you her world...

7 thoughts on “Monarch Butterfly Migration

  1. Such gorgeous butterflies! And what a capture! I’ve been seeing a few Swallow Tails and Painted Ladies but no monarchs yet. Your post is a good reminder to keep my eyes open.
    Happy 4th of July


  2. I live in Bayfield CO at 8000 ft. Will Monarchs come visit at this elevation? I’d create a happy place for them if they would. Much research & no results. I’d be so grateful for your advice. Still planning a butterfly garden but need to know what my hopes should be. Thx so much of your site. It is lovely & I am happy to read about your butterfly experience.


    1. Pamala —

      Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you, but I was trying to find a firm answer to your question. Alas, no luck.
      What I have found is that Monarchs overwinter at 8000 in central Mexico, in the famous oyamel fir forests. And, according to the Xerces Society (, the eastern and western populations in the United States seem to mingle, which suggests that they will get up to your elevation. So I think it’s possible that they would visit your butterfly garden.
      The big thing you can do is to let some milkweed get established, so they have a reason to visit. This is a little problematic, because the milkweed just about took over our pollinator garden this summer, but you can control it by just pulling it up.
      My other piece of advice is to be patient. If Monarchs aren’t in your area already, they will have to stumble upon your butterfly happy place, and that may take some time.
      I’m so glad you like my blog! It’s a lot of fun to write, and even more fun to get the photos to go with it.
      Good luck, and let me know if you get some Monarchs.


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