North American Monarch butterflies are gearing up to head west to California's coast, or South to the mountains of central Mexico to escape the winter season. The spectacularly beautiful creatures have a natural instinct that lets them known when it is time to pack their bags for migration, which generally begins in October.
Monarchs are the only known butterflies to engage in such a long, two-way migration, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Some even travel as far as 3,000 miles to reach their winter homes.
To better understand the monarch's migration and survival rates, Professor David James has led a team of researchers from Washington State University that has breed and tracked monarchs since 2012. The team raises them from their caterpillar stage through winged adulthood when they place a small white identification sticker on each of their wings. The stickers bear an email address on them, so that if found people can contact the researchers with information about their whereabouts.
This year, the team released almost 3,000 tagged butterflies. On average, less than one percent of the butterflies are discovered.
During the first year of this monarch-tracking project, a young girl found one of the labeled butterflies in front of her house in California. When she reached out to James, he made note of the butterfly's 600-mile journey from its release in Washington to the coastal town north of San Francisco.
If you spot a Monarch, make sure to report it to be included on this year's migration map, which can be found online.
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