Butterfly Migration: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jennifer Farrell

Jen has taught Science in accredited schools in North & South America for thirteen years and has a degree in Sociology (Epidemiology & Aids Research).

The monarch butterfly is an international traveler who completes a long round-trip journey. This movement from their homes and back again is called migration. Read on to learn more about the migratory adventures of a monarch butterfly.


Imagine taking a trip each year but rather than jumping onto an airplane or into a car, you walk more than 2,000 miles to your destination. Then, shortly after arriving, you pack your bags for your walk back home! Many animals complete journeys like this, but the migration of the monarch butterfly is unique because of the extremely long distance they travel. Migration is the seasonal movement of animals from their home, to another region, and back home. Animals migrate in search of food, better living conditions, and to mate. Many animals, including some butterflies, travel long distances in only one direction; this is called emigration.

Monarch Butterflies

Monarchs are beautiful, flying insects with easy-to-identify orange, black, and white wings. But did you know these colors serve a purpose beyond beauty? Bright colors in the animal world tell predators 'Stay away.' This coloration is an important defense against the many predators they may encounter during their long migration. Let's take a look at their incredible journey!

Monarchs smell with their antennae.
Monarch Butterfly

Flying South

Each fall, as the weather gets cooler, millions of North American monarch butterflies leave their homes in Canada and the United States. Their 2,000-mile adventure heads south towards Southern California and Central Mexico in search of food and mates. Scientists believe that shorter daylight hours and the drying up of the plants they feed upon tell the monarchs that it is time to fly south.

Although monarchs do not have GPS or a road map to find their way, they return to the same forest each year. Each butterfly lives a few months, making only a portion of the migration in their lifetime. In other words, each new generation born continues along the route from the previous generation. Scientists still wonder how these insects have successfully navigated in the same way for thousands of years. Maybe we should replace our fancy navigating devices with a monarch butterfly!

Billions of monarchs migrate to Mexico each year.

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