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BY-NC-ND 3.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access April 24, 2014

Variation in wing characteristics of monarch butterflies during migration: Earlier migrants have redder and more elongated wings

Dara A. Satterfield and Andrew K. Davis EMAIL logo
From the journal Animal Migration


The migration of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) in North America has a number of parallels with long-distance bird migration, including the fact that migratory populations of monarchs have larger and more elongated forewings than residents. These characteristics likely serve to optimize flight performance in monarchs, as they also do with birds. A question that has rarely been addressed thus far in birds or monarchs is if and how wing characteristics vary within a migration season. Individuals with superior flight performance should migrate quickly, and/or with minimal stopovers, and these individuals should be at the forefront of the migratory cohort. Conversely, individuals with poor flight performance and/or low endurance would be more likely to fall behind, and these would comprise the latest migrants. Here we examined how the wing morphology of migrating monarchs varies to determine if wing characteristics of early migrants differ from late migrants. We measured forewing area, elongation (length/width), and redness, which has been shown to predict flight endurance in monarchs. Based on a collection of 75 monarchs made one entire season (fall 2010), results showed that the earliest migrants (n = 20) in this cohort had significantly redder and more elongated forewings than the latest migrants (n = 17). There was also a non-significant tendency for early migrants to have larger forewing areas. These results suggest that the pace of migration in monarchs is at least partly dependent on the properties of their wings. Moreover, these data also raise a number of questions about the ultimate fate of monarchs that fall behind


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Received: 2013-11-18
Accepted: 2013-12-16
Published Online: 2014-04-24
Published in Print: 2015-01-01

© 2014 Dara A. Satterfield, Andrew K.Davis

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License.

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