Navigational mechanisms of migrating monarch butterflies

Trends Neurosci. 2010 Sep;33(9):399-406. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2010.04.004. Epub 2010 Jun 2.


Recent studies of the iconic fall migration of monarch butterflies have illuminated the mechanisms behind their southward navigation while using a time-compensated sun compass. Skylight cues, such as the sun itself and polarized light, are processed through both eyes and are probably integrated in the brain's central complex, the presumed site of the sun compass. Time compensation is provided by circadian clocks that have a distinctive molecular mechanism and that reside in the antennae. Monarchs might also use a magnetic compass because they possess two cryptochromes that have the molecular capability for light-dependent magnetoreception. Multiple genomic approaches are now being used with the aim of identifying navigation genes. Monarch butterflies are thus emerging as an excellent model organism in which to study the molecular and neural basis of long-distance migration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Migration*
  • Animals
  • Biological Clocks / physiology
  • Butterflies / anatomy & histology
  • Butterflies / genetics
  • Butterflies / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Cryptochromes / metabolism
  • Flight, Animal*
  • Orientation*
  • Solar System
  • Time Factors


  • Cryptochromes