Royal Society Publishing

Monarch butterflies cross the Appalachians from the west to recolonize the east coast of North America

Nathan G. Miller, Leonard I. Wassenaar, Keith A. Hobson, D. Ryan Norris


Each spring, millions of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) migrate from overwintering sites in Mexico to recolonize eastern North America. However, few monarchs are found along the east coast of the USA until mid-summer. Brower (Brower, L. P. 1996 J. Exp. Biol. 199, 93–103.) proposed that east coast recolonization is accomplished by individuals migrating from the west over the Appalachians, but to date no evidence exists to support this hypothesis. We used hydrogen (δD) and carbon (δ13C) stable isotope measurements to estimate natal origins of 90 monarchs sampled from 17 sites along the eastern United States coast. We found the majority of monarchs (88%) originated in the mid-west and Great Lakes regions, providing, to our knowledge, the first direct evidence that second generation monarchs born in June complete a (trans-) longitudinal migration across the Appalachian mountains. The remaining individuals (12%) originated from parents that migrated directly from the Gulf coast during early spring. Our results provide evidence of a west to east longitudinal migration and provide additional rationale for conserving east coast populations by identifying breeding sources.


    • Received June 7, 2010.
    • Accepted June 23, 2010.
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