From: BBC Earth
Published February 25, 2011 07:12 AM

New from BBC Earth: The Monarch Migrates

Dating back to over 250-million years ago, this simple milkweed butterfly is master of change. With it's name literally being translated from the Greek as "sleepy transformation", the Monarch Butterfly develops from egg to caterpillar to butterfly without a bat of a wing! However this seemingly effortless metamorphosis, lasting approximately two weeks, is just the beginning.

Within the mysterious world of this exceptional insect lies a spectacular truth. That in every four generations, the last born will live longer and fly further than any other before them. The typical Monarch's life will last up to four or five weeks taking them through a journey; starting as a tiny creamy white egg planted carefully on the fine leaves of the milkweed, to an energized chrysalis, into a striking tawny colored butterfly! At which point, it will reach adulthood, fly to find the most tempting source of nectar, reproduce and then die. However some then go further.

When the summer is over and the season of falling leaves draws near, the special "Methuselah generation" meaning creature living to a great age, is born! Different to their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents who each only lived for a few weeks. These migratory butterflies will live for up to eight months, and for a very important reason. They must make a famous journey southward, toward Mexico, to the fir forests where there ancestors have landed to rest, feed and breed, before returning back.

However it is the reason for this journey that is bewildering. To survive, the Monarch butterfly protects itself with a repulsive substance that is deadly to most of its predators. Found precisely on the milkweed plant that gave it its first start in life! So to pay the plant back for its generosity and protection, this special generation will make this epic journey just to pollinate, over hundreds of miles away.

A simple combination of a plant famed for it's healing powers, and an insect eternally grateful for this, and we as humans receive one of the most beautiful sights on earth. Emerson said when nature has something to be done, she creates a genius to do it, and this is exactly what the Monarch is. Genius.

To see this incredible video and others on BBC Earth, visit: http://bbcearth.posterous.com/the-monarch-marathon

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