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The Flight of the Monarch Butterflies

By Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views

It has been a childhood dream of mine to witness the flight of Monarch butterflies. A number of years ago, I read an article about millions of Monarchs descending on a small town outside of Mexico City. The magazine had brightly colored photos of these orange and black beauties. Missing from the story was where the Monarchs started their journey.

Monarchs rest in Cape May before taking flight to Mexico. (Photo by Steven M. Hollow.)

I just learned that they takeoff from Cape May, NJ,–less than a three-hour drive from my house. I have been to Mexico, and loved it;  knowing, however, that I could just hop in the car and see them so close to home is a thrill.  I happened to be writing a travel story for the New York Daily News on birding, and found out that the Monarch Monitoring Project, a nonprofit group that is part of the Cape May Bird Observatory, has a tagging program.

Between 1,000 and 2,000 Monarchs are tagged each fall, and about 100 of them are spotted on their return to Cape May.

Volunteers tag between 1,000 and 2,000 Monarchs in Cape May. (Photo by Steven M. Hollow.)

It seems incredible that these—what appear to be delicate—creatures that weigh about ½ gram each navigate a journey of over 2,000 miles to the forested mountains of central Mexico. Many perish along the way. Thankfully many who do make the journey to escape the winters here, return in the spring. The females lay their eggs on milkweed plants growing in northern Mexico. Their offspring repopulate much of the temperate North America. The migration runs from mid September to mid November.

If you go to Cape May, you can see thousands of them pretty much throughout the county. For more information about the migration, click here.  Also in Cape May, you can see several bird migrations and dragonflies as well. I’ve also written about traveling to Malaysia to see thousands of fireflies.

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