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Insect migration

insect migration, insect migration corridors in the us
Insect migration is the seasonal movement of insects, particularly those by species of dragonflies, beetles, butterflies and moths The distance can vary with species and in most cases these movements involve large numbers of individuals In some cases the individuals that migrate in one direction may not return and the next generation may instead migrate in the opposite direction This is a significant difference from bird migration


  • 1 Definition
  • 2 General patterns
  • 3 Orientation
  • 4 Lepidoptera
  • 5 Orthoptera
  • 6 Odonata
  • 7 Coleoptera
  • 8 See also
  • 9 References


All insects move to some extent The range of movement can vary from within a few centimeters for some sucking insects and wingless aphids to thousands of kilometres in the case of other insects such as locusts, butterflies and dragonflies The definition of migration is therefore particularly difficult in the context of insects A behaviour oriented definition proposed is

Migratory behaviour is persistent and straightened-out movement effected by the animal's own locomotory exertions or by its active embarkation on a vehicle It depends upon some temporary inhibition of station-keeping responses but promotes their eventual disinhibition and recurrence

— Kennedy, 1985

This definition disqualifies movements made in the search of resources and which are terminated upon finding of the resource Migration involves longer distance movement and these movements are not affected by the availability of the resource items All cases of long distance insect migration concern winged insects

General patterns

Migrating butterflies fly within a boundary layer, with a specific upper limit above the ground The air speeds in this region are typically lower than the flight speed of the insect These 'boundary-layer' migrants include the larger day-flying insects, and their low-altitude flight is obviously easier to observe than that of most high-altitude windborne migrants

Many migratory species tend to have polymorphic forms, a migratory one and a resident phase The migratory phases are marked by their well developed and long wings Such polymorphism is well known in aphids and grasshoppers In the migratory locusts, there are distinct long and short-winged forms

The energetic cost of migration has been studied in the context of life-history strategies It has been suggested that adaptations for migration would be more valuable for insects that live in habitats where resource availability changes seasonally Others have suggested that species living in isolated islands of suitable habitats are more likely to evolve migratory strategies The role of migration in gene flow has also been studied in many species Parasite loads affect migration Severely infected individuals are weak and have shortened lifespans Infection creates an effect known as culling whereby migrating animals are less likely to complete the migration This results in populations with lower parasite loads


Migration is usually marked by well defined destinations which need navigation and orientation A flying insect needs to make corrections for crosswinds It has been demonstrated that many migrating insects sense windspeed and direction and make suitable corrections Day-flying insects primarily make use of the sun for orientation, however this requires that they compensate for the movement of the sun Endogenous time-compensation mechanisms have been proposed and tested by releasing migrating butterflies that have been captured and kept in darkness to shift their internal clocks and observing changes in the directions chosen by them Some species appear to make corrections while it has not been demonstrated in others

Most insects are capable of sensing polarized light and they are able to use the polarization of the sky when the sun is occluded by clouds The orientation mechanisms of nocturnal moths and other insects that migrate have not been well studied, however magnetic cues have been suggested in short distance fliers

Recent studies suggest that migratory butterflies may be sensitive to the Earth's magnetic field on the basis of the presence of magnetite particles In an experiment on the monarch butterfly, it was shown that a magnet changed the direction of initial flight of migrating monarch butterflies However this result was not a strong demonstration since the directions of the experimental butterflies and the controls did not differ significantly in the direction of flight


Main article:Lepidoptera migration

Migration of butterflies and moths is particularly well known The Bogong moth is a native insect of Australia that is known to migrate to cooler climates The Madagascan sunset moth Chrysiridia rhipheus has migrations of up to thousands of individuals, occurring between the eastern and western ranges of their host plant, when they become depleted or unsuitable for consumption

In southern India, mass migrations of many species occur before monsoons As many as 250 species of butterflies in India are migratory These include members of the Pieridae and Nymphalidae The Australian painted lady periodically migrates down the cost of Australia, and occasionally, in periods of strong migration in Australia, migrate to New Zealand

The monarch butterfly migrates from southern Canada to wintering sites in central Mexico where they spend the winter In the late winter or early spring, the adult monarchs leave the Transvolcanic mountain range in Mexico to travel north Mating occurs and the females seek out milkweed to lay their eggs, usually first in northern Mexico and southern Texas The caterpillars hatch and develop into adults that move north, where more offspring can go as far as Central Canada until the next migratory cycle The entire annual migration cycle involves five generations

The painted lady Vanessa cardui is a butterfly whose annual 15,000 km round trip from Scandinavia and Great Britain to West Africa involves up to six generations


Locusts Schistocerca gregaria regularly migrate with the seasons

Short-horned grasshoppers sometime form swarms that will make long flights These are often irregular and may be related to resource availability and thus not fulfilling some definitions of insect migration There are however some populations of species such as locusts Schistocerca gregaria that make regular seasonal movements in parts of Africa; exceptionally, the species migrates very long distances, as in 1988 when swarms flew across the Atlantic ocean


Dragonflies are among the longest distance insect migrants Many species of Libellula, Sympetrum and Pantala are known for their mass migration Pantala flavescens is thought to make the longest ocean crossings among insects, flying between India and Africa on their migrations Their movements are often assisted by winds


Ladybird beetles such as Hippodamia convergens, Adalia bipunctata and Coccinella undecimpunctata have been noted in large numbers in some places In some cases, these movements appear to be made in the search for hibernation sites

See also

  • Animal migration


  1. ^ Kennedy, JS 1985 Migration, behavioural and ecological In:Rankin, MA ed Migration:Mechanisms and Adaptive Significance Contributions in Marine Science 27 supplement, 5–26
  2. ^ a b c d Williams, CB 1957 "Insect Migration" Annual Review of Entomology 2:163–180 doi:101146/annureven02010157001115 
  3. ^ Taylor, LR 1974 "Insect migration, flight periodicity and the boundary layer" Journal of Animal Ecology 43:225–238 doi:102307/3169 
  4. ^ Denno, RF 1994 "The evolution of dispersal polymorphism in insects:the influence of habitats, host plants and mates" Researches on Population Ecology 36:127–135 doi:101007/bf02514927 
  5. ^ Southwood, TRE 1962 "Migration of terrestrial arthropods in relation to habitat" Biological Review 37:171–214 doi:101111/j1469-185x1962tb01609x 
  6. ^ Hanski, I and Kuussaari, M 1995 Butterfly metapopulation dynamics In:Cappuccino, N and Price, PW eds Population Dynamics:New Approaches and Synthesis Academic Press, New York, pp 149–171
  7. ^ Leong, K L H; M A Yoshimura; H K Kaya; H Williams 1997 "Instar Susceptibility of the Monarch Butterfly Danaus plexippus to the Neogregarine Parasite, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha" Journal of Invertebrate Pathology 69 1:79–83 doi:101006/jipa19964634 PMID 9028932 Lay summary 
  8. ^ Bartel, Rebecca; Oberhauser, Karen; De Roode, Jacob; Atizer, Sonya February 2011 "Monarch butterfly migration and parasite transmission in eastern North America" Ecology 92 2:342–351 doi:101890/10-04891 PMID 21618914 
  9. ^ a b Srygley, RB, Oliveira, EG and Dudley, R 1996 Wind drift compensation, flyways, and conservation of diurnal, migrant Neotropical Lepidoptera Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 263, 1351–1357
  10. ^ Heran, H and Lindauer, M 1963 Windkompensation und Seitenwindkorrektur der Bienen beim Flug über Wasser Zeitschrift für vergleichende Physiologie 47:39–55
  11. ^ Oliveira, EG, Dudley, R and Srygley, RB 1996 Evidence for the use of a solar compass by neotropical migratory butterflies Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 775, 332
  12. ^ Hyatt, M 1993 The use of sky polarization for migratory orientation by monarch butterflies PhD thesis, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  13. ^ Baker, RR 1987 "Integrated use of moon and magnetic compasses by the heart-and-dart moth, Agrotis exclamationis" Animal Behaviour 35:94–101 doi:101016/s0003-34728780214-2 
  14. ^ Jones, DS; MacFadden, BJ 1982 "Induced magnetization in the monarch butterfly Danaus plexippus Insecta, Lepidoptera" Journal of Experimental Biology 96:1–9 
  15. ^ Perez, SM; Taylor, OR; Jander, R 1999 "The effect of a strong magnetic field on monarch butterfly Danaus plexippus migratory behavior" Naturwissenschaften 86:140–143 doi:101007/s001140050587 
  16. ^ Lees, David; Neal Smith 1991 "Foodplants of the Uraniinae Uraniidae and their Systematic, Evolutionary and Ecological Significance" PDF The Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society The Lepidopterists' Society 45 4:296–347 Retrieved 2006-10-29 Lay summary 
  17. ^ Catala, R 1940 "Variations expérimentales de Chrysiridia madagascariensis Less Lep Uraniidae" Archives du Muséum National D'Histoire Naturelle 17:PhD Thesis 
  18. ^ Williams, CB 1930 The Migration of Butterflies Oliver & Boyd, Edinburgh
  19. ^ Senthilmurugan B Mukurthi National Park:A migratory route for butterflies Aug 2005 J Bombay Nat Hist Soc 102 2:pp 241-242
  20. ^ Dingle, Hugh; Zalucki, Myron P; Rochester, Wayne A 1999 "Season-specific directional movement in migratory Australian Butterflies" Australian Journal of Entomology 38:323–329 doi:101046/j1440-6055199900117x 
  21. ^ Dingle, Hugh; Zalucki, Myron P; Rochester, Wayne A 1999 "Season-specific directional movement in migratory Australian Butterflies" Australian Journal of Entomology 38:323–329 doi:101046/j1440-6055199900117x 
  22. ^ Arnhold, Tilo 23 October 2012 "Falter mit Migrationshintergrund" Helmholtz-Zentrum für Umweltforschung UFZ in German Retrieved 2016-06-27 
  23. ^ Tipping, Christopher May 8, 1995 "Chapter 11:The Longest Migration" Department of Entomology & Nematology, University of Florida Retrieved 8 September 2014 
  24. ^ Buden, Donald W 2010 "Pantala flavescens Insecta:Odonata Rides West Winds into Ngulu Atoll, Micronesia:Evidence of Seasonality and Wind-Assisted Dispersal" Pacific Science 64 1:141–143 doi:102984/641141 
  25. ^ Anderson, RC 2009 "Do dragonflies migrate across the western Indian Ocean" Journal of Tropical Ecology 25:347–348 doi:101017/s0266467409006087 

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