Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Monarch butterflies once again making their mysterious migration to Mexico as leaderless orphans


Oblivious to our headlines -- the school shootings, the congressional sex scandal and coverup, the "State of Denial" revelations about the Bush administration and Iraq -- what the NYT calls "leaderless orphans" are making their annual pilgrimage to Mexico.

The migrations of other well-known species are led by veterans. The young learn from their parents. But the monarch butterflies that migrate to Mexico from as far north as Canada are several generations removed from the most recent relatives to make the trip. In fact, they are their great grandchildren.

Without leaders or mentors, they perform incredible feats of navigation to thread the needle, avoid drowning in the Gulf of Mexico and reach their winter quarters in Mexico.
But those lifting off anywhere from Montana to Maine must aim themselves carefully to avoid drowning in the Gulf of Mexico or hitting a dead end in Florida. The majority manage to thread a geographical needle, hitting a 50-mile-wide gap of cool river valleys between Eagle Pass and Del Rio, Tex.
Once in Mexico's mountains, they gain altitude and must make some additional precise turns to reach their winter grounds. How do they do it? That's what researchers are trying to find out, as the NYT reports today.

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