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Colleges: Monarch butterfly uses geomagnetism.

Byline: Sara Schweiger

WORCESTER -- Collaborative research between the University of Massachusetts Medical School and Worcester Polytechnic Institute has identified a new component of monarch butterflies' navigation system.

The research, published in the journal Nature Communications, shows that monarchs use an internal compass that relies on both ultraviolet light and geomagnetic cues.

Each fall, millions of the butterflies travel from breeding sites across the United States to a specific spot in Central Mexico.

Monarchs use a time-compensated sun compass in their antennae to help them find their way along the 2,000-mile migratory trek.

But even on cloudy days, they have been seen flying in a southerly direction. It had been hypothesized but never proven that they use geomagnetic cues when light cues are unavailable.

Dr. Steven Reppert, the senior study author and professor of neurobiology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, said that greater knowledge of the mechanisms of the monarchs' fall migration may aid in the butterflies' preservation, which is threatened by climate change and loss of overwintering habitats.

"A new vulnerability to now consider is the potential disruption of the magnetic compass in the monarch by human-induced electromagnetic noise,'' Dr. Reppert said in a statement.

Robert Gegear, co-author and assistant professor of biology and biotechnology at WPI, said the study showed that monarchs "use a sophisticated magnetic inclination compass system for navigation similar to that used by much larger-brained migratory vertebrates such as birds and sea turtles.''

The research provides the first evidence of such a navigation tool in a long-distance migratory insect.

Researchers found that tethered monarchs in simulators oriented themselves in a southerly direction and used the inclination angle of Earth's magnetic field to guide their movement.

Reversing the direction of the inclination caused the monarchs to orient in the opposite direction, to the north instead of the south.
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Title Annotation:Local
Author:Schweiger, Sara
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jun 25, 2014
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