Wonder Contributors

Today’s revisited Wonder of the Day was inspired by submitted questions from the following Wonder Friends: Mary, Blake, Maddy, Taylor, Marjorie, Amy, Sheila, Leslie and Ms. Toler’s Kindergarten Class! Thanks for submitting your questions about butterflies! Keep WONDERing!

Why did the little boy throw butter out the window? He wanted to see the butterfly! OK…that’s an old joke you’ve probably heard many times. But who doesn’t like to see butterflies?

Butterflies always fascinate children, because of the miraculous transformation they go through during their life cycle. It’s simply incredible that those unusual caterpillar bugs can change into beautiful butterflies.

One of the joys of sunny summer days is watching butterflies float around the backyard. As they flit from flower to flower, they seem so delicate. Would you believe, though, that butterflies can actually fly incredible distances?

One particular butterfly species — the Monarch butterfly — travels great distances every year during its annual migration. Summer in North America is usually nice and warm, but Monarch butterflies can’t survive the cold winters of most parts of the United States.

Each year around October (or earlier if it turns cold earlier), Monarch butterflies migrate south and west to find warmer weather. Monarch butterflies from the Eastern United States travel to Mexico, while butterflies that live west of the Rocky Mountains head to California.

Amazingly, Monarch butterflies travel to the same destinations every year. How long is the trip? For some Monarch butterflies, the journey can be as long as 2,000 miles and take up to two months to complete. Isn’t it cool that something so beautiful and delicate could travel so far?

The story doesn’t end there, though. It gets more incredible. Because the life span of Monarch butterflies is fairly short (6-8 weeks), it’s actually subsequent generations of Monarch butterflies that make the same trips each year.

Most insects do not migrate, because their life spans are not long enough. Only Monarch butterflies born in September and October survive long enough to migrate. The butterflies that travel to Mexico and California have children — and sometimes grandchildren! — that then make the return trip in the spring.

How do they do it? Scientists believe they use a sophisticated system they call a time-adjusted sun compass. In other words, they follow the sun. Because the sun is always moving, though, this isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Monarch butterflies have a 24-hour internal clock — called a circadian clock — that is part of their antennae. This part of the system tells the butterflies what time of day it is. Depending upon the time of day, the butterflies can then tell approximately where the sun should be.

The butterflies then use special photoreceptors inside their eyes to follow the angle of the sun. Incredibly, Monarch butterflies are able to pass on these innate directions to their children and subsequent generations. Isn’t nature WONDERful?

60 Join the Discussion

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    • WOHOO, we are so glad you liked watching our butterfly video today, Cade768! There are so many cool butterflies to Wonder about and we are SUPER excited that you’re doing exactly that! Thanks for joining the fun and learning something new with us today, Wonder Friend! :)

  1. We thought the butterflies were beautiful, it was cool how they drank fruit juice.

    We think tomorrow’s wonder will be about bats!

    • HOORAY! We are floating like butterflies to hear that the students in Ms. Bayko’s class are WONDERing with us today! We are SO HAPPY that you enjoyed today’s Wonder video and you’ve learned something new about butterflies– how they travel and what they like to eat. Just like all of us here at Wonderopolis, it seems these butterflies have a sweet tooth!

      Thanks for sharing your great guess with us– tomorrow’s Wonder will be best at night! :)

  2. We really enjoyed your video on the butterfly movie, and we think tomorrow’s wonder is going to be about the black footed cat. Thank you for posting this awesome video!!

    • Alright! We are so happy to hear that you two enjoyed WONDERing about butterflies with us today, Zoey and Aniela! We think you have both been doing a great job of using your imagination– what a SUPER guess for tomorrow’s dark Wonder! Thanks for leaving such a great comment today!! :)

    • Hi there John, thanks for leaving a comment at Wonderopolis today! We bet you’re a speedy runner if you’re able to catch those beautiful butterflies in action! Thank you for WONDERing with us today– we can’t wait to take on another adventure with you soon! :)

    • What a STELLAR Wonder from the students in Mrs. Foster’s Class! We are SO happy that you enjoyed learning about butterflies with us today! We Wonder if you can do some research of your own on butterflies to find out if any of them stay put. However, the reason many butterflies migrate is to keep warm and avoid the harsh winters of the central region! We can’t wait to learn about what you’ve discovered on your own!! :)

  3. The Butterfly info was really cool! We even checked out the video of the butterfly being born, and played the butterfly puzzle! We all took turns putting the puzzle together!
    We think tomorrow’s Wonder will be about fireflies.

    • Look at all the great things you’ve accomplished today! The students in Ms. Moreland’s 3rd Grade Class are so lucky– and very close to becoming butterfly experts! WAY TO GO WONDER FRIENDS!

      Your guess for tomorrow has really taken flight! We can’t wait to find out what exists while we Wonder in the dark tomorrow! :)

  4. I love butterflies. I like how Robert Frost, in one of his poems, called them “Sky Flakes.” I think tomorrow’s Wonder will be about the moon.

    • Thanks for posting such a great comment today, Steve! We LOVE your reference to Robert Frost’s poem, “Blue Butterfly Day.” We think it’s AWESOME to use your imagination and Wonder up a new way to describe things you love, like butterflies!

      Thank you for sharing your guess with us– we cannot wait to Wonder with you soon! :)

  5. Dear Wonderopolis,

    We thought the butterfly wonder was amazing and awesome! We predict that tomorrow’s Wonder will either be about fireflies, or shooting stars!

    See ya tomorrow! Have a WONDERful day!
    Ms. Davidson’s Third Grade Class

    • Happy Thursday to the students in Ms. Davidson’s Third Grade Class! We are so EXCITED that you enjoyed today’s Wonder about those beautiful and determined butterflies! Could you imagine traveling the distances they endure? AMAZING!

      Thanks for sharing your guess for tomorrow– we think you’re going to love discovering new things in the dark! We hope all of you have a WONDERful day, too! :)

  6. We really enjoyed the video today – we visited the Butterfly Conservatory this past spring! Our guess for tomorrow’s Wonder will either be fireflies or maybe planets?

    • WOHOO, we are so excited to hear you enjoyed today’s Wonder, Maddie and Jackson! What a COOL experience to go to the Butterfly Conservatory and get a look up close at all those beautiful butterflies! Thank you for sharing your AWESOME guesses with us– we can’t wait to discover tomorrow’s nightly Wonder! :)

    • What a STELLAR comment, Soccer geek! Thank you for suggesting a great idea for a Wonder of the Day®. We appreciate your comment and can’t wait to Wonder with you again! :)

  7. Did you know that the zebra butterfly is the state butterfly? I have those butterflies in my backyard under the medium size tree that the butterflies live under. :O

    • WOW, what a great fact to share, Carlos! We think it’s AMAZING that you can experience these strong, beautiful creatures in your very own backyard! We are so happy to have a great Wonder Friend like you! :)

  8. Zoology is not my expertise, so I can’t add any additional information. I find that the lifespan of a Monarch is tragically short. Do you have any information about why they live such short lives?
    The amazing directional knowledge of Monarchs is spectacular.
    I believe that tomorrow’s Wonder will be about owls.

    • We appreciate your comments for today’s butterfly Wonder, Tori! We hope you enjoyed learning something new about these amazing creatures– they are great travelers! We Wonder if you can do some research on your own to find out more information about all that butterflies can accomplish during their lifespan.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us today and for WONDERing with us about new and exciting topics! Keep up the great work! :)

  9. I Loved the Wonder of the day® today! I think tomorrow’s will be about bats, or nocturnal animals. Thank you for posting this awesome video, and other FAQs about butterflies!

    • Hip-hip-HOORAY, we are so excited to hear you enjoyed today’s Wonder, Tori! You’ve got some great guesses for tomorrow’s Wonder– we are excited to use our imagination with you soon and expand our knowledge with great Wonder Friends, like you!! :)

  10. I think this wonder was amazing! I love butterflies and have been to the conservatory many times. My favorite is the Monarch. :)

    • WOHOO, thanks for sharing your great comment with us today, Pickle Boy MC! We think it’s oh-so-cool that you have seen all these butterflies when you visited the conservatory– what a great way to inspire Wonder! Thanks for sharing your favorite butterfly and your awesome comment, too! :)

    • You had a great guess for today’s Wonder, Tiauna, and we hope you enjoyed learning about these amazing butterflies! They are great travelers! Thanks for WONDERing with us today! :)

    • WOHOO, you’re a ROCK STAR Tyshincross! We are SUPER excited that you’ve already done some WONDERing of your own about butterflies and their long-distance travels! Thanks for sharing your enthusiastic comment with all of us at Wonderopolis today! :)

  11. Hi! I’m in Mrs. Caplin’s class. I thought this wonder was super cool. It was also neat because at home I have a butterfly collection. I think they are so amazing, and every time I see one I stand there with my mouth gaping open.

    • WOW, what a super connection to our butterfly Wonder, Mookie the Cat MC! We are so proud to hear that you have a butterfly collection of your very own– you must know a great deal about all the amazing things these insects can do! Butterflies have the same effect over us, too– we are always in awe when we see them flutter above us! Thanks for sharing your comment with us, Wonder Friend! :)

    • That’s a super Wonder, Zoe! We are glad that you’re using your imagination and thinking about the distance different butterflies can travel! We bet you can find out if you do some research of your own… we hope you share what you find with us! :)

  12. Hi! Back agian, but this time, on offical business. I LOVE butterflies, so I chose this wonder for my homework. Some new facts I learned are that the Monarch butterfly migrates to the same destination every fall! I think that that would be difficult, because a butterfly doesn’t use a map! Instincts, I guess.
    I had always thought that lots of insects migrated, so I was surprsised to discover that only a few do! About how many different species DO migrate? And why? I think that most of the reasons will probaly be for weather. I mean, if I could fly somewhere warm for free, I would too! Butterflies got the right idea. We should all grow wings and go to Mexico for the winter. Anyways, I LOVE BUTTERFLIES!

    • Hi there, Mookiethecat! Welcome back– we’re glad you’re WONDERing with us today! Butterflies are SUPER insects to Wonder about… they are excellent travelers, too! We think you’re on to something… do you think butterflies use other senses to direct them while they are traveling?

      We are excited to hear that you’re WONDERing about other migration patterns… many animals, like frogs and toads, migrate short distances to hibernate for the winter. Some animals, like birds and butterflies, can travel long distances! We like your style, Mookiethecat– traveling South for the winter sounds like a good deal to us at Wonderopolis! :)

  13. I liked your video it was awesome. Hope I can come someday, just saying, can you tell me how fast they can fly? Thank you.

    • Thanks for sharing your awesome comment with us, Sarah H! We’re glad you’re WONDERing with us about those amazing insects! Some butterflies can fly up to 12 miles per hour! They are great at flying long distances, too! :)

    • We’re happy to answer your awesome Wonder questions, Sarah H! Thanks for visiting us again! We bet you can do some WONDERing of your own about the life cycle of butterflies! We’d love to learn more, too! :)

  14. Hey sooo I like butterflies. I’ve never seen such a place soooooooooo beautiful with butterflies. Do you have monarch butterflies I’d like to know how long monarch butterflies stay in their eggs. Your website has almost everything about butterflies I LIKE THIS WEBSITE SOOOO MUCH THANK YOU THANK YOU great to know about this website your the best friend THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend Arichned! Thanks for sharing your comment with us- we’re happy to hear that you are a butterfly lover! We are lucky to have great Wonder Friends like you who enjoy using their imaginations! Perhaps you can continue to Wonder on your about about butterflies– check out your local library or use the Internet for more information! Please let us know what you find! :)

  15. Hi I’m new here I would like to ask that if you can please give me some facts on MONARCH butterflies only and this website is loaded with information it’s sooo cool and you’re the most best nicest and awesome.

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend Lily! We’re so glad you’re here! We’ve got lots of information to share about a variety of topics, including butterflies! We bet you’ll do a SUPER job of researching monarch butterflies– check out the library or even the Internet! Keep up the great work! :)

  16. Hi Wonderopolis I get caterpillars every spring, and when all the butterflies have hatched I set them free.
    Bye Wonderopolis!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :)

    • Hey Klara, thanks for sharing your WONDERful connection with us today! We’re so glad that you can see how caterpillars turn into butterflies in your very own backyard! We Wonder if you have checked out our Wonder about what goes on inside a cocoon, Wonder Friend? :)

  17. My class of Ks every year follows this mirigration with the Journey North website! We mailed butterflies to Mexico in Oct. and just received ones back last week. We love watching the JN post the mirigration on their US map! What a treat!
    Grace Toler
    P.S. This was a question I sent in to you in August – thanks for posting!

    • Wow, Ms. Toler! That is so awesome! We bet your class was so excited to see the butterflies return! What a WONDERful way to bring science to life in your classroom! Thank you so much for sharing! :-)

  18. Mrs. Gill’s 1st grade class has a couple of questions.

    1. Why do butterflies drink nectar?
    2. How far can a butterfly fly?
    3. What kind of butterflies were in the video?
    4. How did you get the butterflies and the plants in the conservatory?

    Thank you for helping us to wonder!

    • Those are terrific Wonders, Mrs. Gill’s 1st grade class! Sometimes the answers to your questions show up when you revisit the Wonder. Other times, you might need to look elsewhere for the answers. Where will your Wonder take you?

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How far can butterflies fly?
  • Why do Monarch butterflies migrate?
  • How do Monarch butterflies know where to fly?

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National Geographic Education’s Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle and Migration activity invites children to watch a time-lapse video of the monarch butterfly life cycle and then illustrate and label the life cycle.

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