In terms of migratory drama, monarchs are the diminutive wildebeests of the sky. They are the only butterflies that make a two-way migration like birds. But no single butterfly makes the entire journey. Instead it is like a relay race, with four generations passing the butterfly baton in order to fly to their northern summer homes and back to Mexico for winter.
At this time of year in the southern Appalachians, monarch butterflies reach their peak of migration through mountain passes en route to their winter home. Some have already traveled thousands of miles, and their journey is far from over. They come now to gardens, fueling up on nectar from plants like these aster flowers that not only will sustain their voyage, but also keep them alive through winter.
Major funding was just announced yesterday for the newly created Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund. Hopefully this will help preserve the habitats of this important and beautiful pollinator. If not, maybe their trip on the International Space Station in 2009 is just the trial run for their ultimate migratory destination, the colonization of space!