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Female monarch butterflies are superior fliers, migrators

"We believe this work will be important for improving scientific understanding of the migratory cycle," said researcher Andy Davis.

By
Brooks Hays
A thicker, smaller wing is key to a female monarch butterfly's flying abilities. Photo by anuphadit/Shutterstock
A thicker, smaller wing is key to a female monarch butterfly's flying abilities. Photo by anuphadit/Shutterstock

ATHENS, Ga., Nov. 4 (UPI) -- Female monarch butterflies are more gifted fliers and successful migrators than their male peers. According to researchers at the University of Georgia, females are empowered by their wings.

Though female monarchs have smaller wings and wing muscles, their wings are thicker and less weight-bearing. The combination makes them more efficient in the air.

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"Both of these elements would play important roles in determining the outcome of the migration," lead study author Andy Davis, a research scientist with Georgia's Odum School of Ecology, said in a press release. "Until now, we had no idea why females were better flyers than males, but this study definitely helps to answer that question."

When Davis and his research partners set out to measure the wing characteristics of male and female monarch butterflies, they expected to find larger flying muscles among female specimens. The opposite was true.

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Instead, they found the ratio of body to wing size was more pronounced. Females have smaller wings, but they also have much lighter bodies, lessening the load on their wings.

"The way I think about it is that per flap of their wings, females use less energy to move their bodies relative to males," said co-author Michael Holden, an undergraduate ecology student at Georgia.

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Their measurements also showed females to possess thicker wings, making them less likely to suffer damage to their most important anatomical asset.

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"We believe this work will be important for improving scientific understanding of the migratory cycle," Davis added, "and it will also serve as a reference point for future studies aimed at flight characteristics of monarch butterflies."

The new research was published in the Journal of Insects.

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