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Monarch’s Genes Unveil Mystery Of Migration

March 31, 2009

There has been a group of 40 genes uncovered by scientists that appear to make North America’s monarch butterflies fly thousands of miles south each autumn.

This is the first time that researchers have honed in on the exact genes driving migratory behavior in any animal.

Monarchs are famous for their 2,500 mile overland migrations from Canada to Mexico, but what drives them is a mystery.

Steven Reppert a neurobiologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and colleagues have found a suite of genes that are activated when the insects migrate.

“Our data are the first to provide a link between gene expression profiles in the brain and migratory state in any animal that undergoes long-distance migration,” they wrote on Tuesday in the British-based open access journal BMC Biology.

Every year in Mexico, hundreds of millions of monarchs fly to ancestral feeding grounds in a journey that is unique in the butterfly world.  They use internal clocks and a “sun compass,” that senses the angle of the sun to orientate themselves on the journey.

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