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Monarch Migration

By Karl C. Priest

Your assignment; should you choose to take it, is to design a navigational system with (1) a lens that can see in all directions simultaneously and convert light to electrical voltage pulses of less than 20 millivolts, (2) a computer with sensors to detect the earth's magnetic field and sun's position and determine its present position within a few feet, and (3) a propulsion system that can travel silently as far as 3000 miles propelled with a readily attainable nonpolluting fuel.

This system must weigh 1/2 gram, be smaller than a pea, and you must build it in eight days in total darkness with no outside help "Impossible!" You say. Jules Poirier, retired senior electronic design engineer in the aerospace industry; says this navigational system was designed about 6,000 years ago and placed into the beautiful orange and black Monarch butterfly.

Before the Monarch takes to wing, it is already a marvelous example of a purposeful creation. When it emerges from its chrysalis, its wings are folded tightly so the Monarch expands them by pumping fluid into the wing veins. There are 28 wing scales in each 1/16 of a square inch and all are precisely colored. The scales are water resistant for up to 20 minutes.

Each Monarch eye contains 3000 lenses and can focus at near (0.OO4 inches) and far (20 feet) The antennae (besides being used to chemically analyze food sources) are used for flight balance and have red sensor tips that can detect a mate from two miles away. It has a brain which interprets 72,000 electrical pulses from the eyes. There are seven other nerve centers throughout the body.

It has a coiled tongue which is uncoiled to suck flower nectar. The little butterfly has several mouth parts, an esophagus, stomach and salivary glands. The feet contain taste sensors that are 2,000 times more sensitive to sugars than human sensors. There is a red heart that pumps blood throughout the body Also, there are several muscles that serve a variety of functions, one of which is flight.

Monarchs cruise at 10 mph, but reach 30 mph with a tail wind. They have been seen as high as 12,000 feet. Each year the Monarch takes an amazing flight. There are several routes taken by various Monarch populations, one of which is over 2,000 miles long. Let's consider a Monarch female leaving in mid-March after spending the winter with millions of other Monarchs at a small site on a Mexican mountain.

She will lay eggs along the way north and die before reaching the summer destination. Her offspring travels further northward and repeats the egg laying death cycle so that the third generation arrives in Canada around July 1. It is the last generation that will return to the exact spot in Mexico left by the grandmother Monarch.

No one knows how the grandchildren Monarchs find the exact spot of a wintering site which they have never seen. Their navigation involves setting a course that requires humans to use mathematical calculations. They will wait on a favorable wind before crossing water and have flown 375 miles, nonstop, in 10 hours. Evolutionary random chance could never produce a creature as complicated as the Monarch butterfly. It is obvious the Monarch has been programmed by a wonderful Creator.

(This article first appeared in the Charleston, West Virginia Metro West on 7-15-98.)

For a more detailed description of the Morach see:

From Darkness to Light to Flight by Jules H. Poirier