Spatial Orientation Based on Multiple Visual Cues in Non-migratory Monarch Butterflies

May 06, 2020 | Biology

Lab.Equipment has your daily Biology news covered. Read today's article first published on Journal of Experimental Biology:

Myriam Franzke, Christian Kraus, David Dreyer, Keram Pfeiffer, M. Jerome Beetz, Anna L. Stöckl, James J. Foster, Eric J. Warrant, and Basil el Jundi

Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) are prominent for their annual long-distance migration from North America to their overwintering area in Central Mexico. To find their way on this long journey, they use a sun compass as their main orientation reference but will also adjust their migratory direction with respect to mountain ranges. This indicates that the migratory butterflies also attend to the panorama to guide their travels. While the compass has been studied in detail in migrating butterflies, little is known about the orientation abilities of non-migrating butterflies. Here we studied if non-migrating butterflies - that stay in a more restricted area to feed and breed - also use a similar compass system to guide their flights. Performing behavioral experiments on tethered flying butterflies in an indoor LED flight simulator, we found that the monarchs fly along straight tracks with respect to a simulated sun. When a panoramic skyline was presented as the only orientation cue, the butterflies maintained their flight direction only during short sequences suggesting that they potentially use it for flight stabilization. We further found that when we presented the two cues together, the butterflies incorporate both cues in their compass. Taken together, we here show that non-migrating monarch butterflies can combine multiple visual cues for robust orientation, an ability that may also aid them during their migration... Continue reading the article at the Journal of Experimental Biology Blog.

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