Each fall, millions of monarch butterflies leave their summer breeding grounds in the northeastern U.S. and Canada and travel upwards of 3,000 miles to reach overwintering grounds in southwestern Mexico.

But unlike birds or wildebeest that also embark on epic migrations, these individual butterflies will never return.

Why won’t they make it all the way back? How do they know where to go in the first place?

How Does Monarch Butterfly Migration Work?

As the days get shorter and the temperatures drop off, monarchs begin to abandon breeding and feeding territories in search of a safe place to spend the winter.

For monarchs, that overwintering ground is found high up on just a few mountains in central Mexico. Once there, the monarchs huddle together by the millions on the branches of oyamel fir trees.

These trees, also known as sacred firs, create a microclimate that protects the insects, says Pablo Jaramillo-López, a research scientist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Image by Sean Fitzgerald at http://www.seanfitzgerald.com/2014/02/photo-of-the-day-endangered-monarchs/

“The tree canopy and ecosystem provide a blanket effect for the monarchs, so the temperatures don’t go too high or too low,” says López.

After waiting out the winter, these individuals head part of the way back northto warmer climes such as Texas, where they mate and lay eggs on milkweed plants. In just a few days, the eggs hatch into brilliantly striped caterpillars of black, gold, and white. These monarch larvae consume vast amounts of milkweed before forming a chrysalis and transforming into adult butterflies.

From National Geographic

Incredible spring migration of beautiful monarch butterflies

Imagine being surrounded by butterflies in every direction.

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