Surprisingly good orientation of a butterfly in flight of thousands of kilometers

The insect popularly known as the “death sphinx butterfly” (although it is actually an insect) has been the subject of an investigation using small tracking devices to track the flight of specimens of this species. .

Monitoring results suggest that the death sphinx butterfly continuously adjusts its flight direction during its nocturnal migration in response to winds and other topographical features to maintain its course, which indicates that these animals continue to grow throughout their journey. use a sophisticated system. Or compass mechanism for navigation.

The discovery reveals new insights into how these insects travel such long distances during seasonal migration and shows that complex migration strategies are not unique to vertebrates.

Every year, billions of migratory insects such as butterflies, locusts and moths travel great distances around the world on a journey crossing continents, mountain ranges, oceans and a wide range of environmental conditions.

Although long-distance seasonal migrations are relatively well understood at the population level, how different insects accomplish them is less understood.

This is the case of Lepidoptera that migrate at night, such as the death sphinx butterfly, which travels up to 4,000 km between Europe and sub-Saharan Africa.

Given the challenges of tracking such small nocturnal flying animals over such long distances, individual moths have never been observed during their migration. As a result, the abilities and behaviors these creatures use to maintain a straight flight path over long distances are unknown.

Miles Mainz of the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior (now at James Cook University in Australia) and his colleagues placed small very high frequency (VHF) radio transmitters on the backs of death sphinx butterflies and attached them to an airplane during night migration flights. Tracked, Received Detailed itinerary for seven samples.

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Research has focused on an insect commonly known by the “death sphinx butterfly” and other names. (Photo: Christian Ziegler / Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior)

Mainz and his colleagues found that these moths not only fly in one direction with a favorable tailwind, but were also able to correct their specific flight paths in the face of damaging winds and terrain features to maintain a straight flight path. Destination

According to the study authors, maintaining a consistent straight flight path and flight speed throughout the night in variable wind conditions is a strong indicator that the moth has an internal compass mechanism. This, and the insect’s exceptional night vision, suggest that death depends on a combination of visual landmarks and Earth’s magnetic field to navigate considerable distances during sphinx butterfly migration.

The study is titled “Individual tracking reveals long-distance flight-path control in a nocturnal migrating moth.” And it has been published in the academic journal Science. (source: AAAS)

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