Monarch butterflies raised indoors still know how to fly south if given enough time to orient themselves, according to new University of Guelph research.

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The finding is good news for the many nature lovers and school students who raise monarchs and then set them free to help boost struggling numbers.

Monarchs are the only butterfly known to make a long-distance migration to warmer wintering grounds. While those born in the spring and early summer live only from two to six weeks, those that emerge in the late summer sense environmental signals that tell them to fly thousands of kilometres south, to central Mexico.

Recent U.S. studies have suggested that captive-raised monarchs become disoriented when they emerge from their cocoons and cannot fly south. But this new research, led by U of G PhD student Alana Wilcox and integrative biology professor Dr. Ryan Norris, finds that may not be true.

Wilcox said previous research was conducted only in a “flight simulator,” involving placing the butterflies into an open vessel and then gauging which direction they try to fly. The U of G team used a flight simulator but also tracked a second group of monarchs that were released in the wild after being equipped with tiny radio transmitters.

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