Single gene responsible for Monarch butterflies’ long-distance flights

Single gene responsible for Monarch butterflies’ long-distance flights

A single gene is responsible for some Monarch butterfly populations' long-distance flight capabilities, according to a new study by University of Chicago researchers.

Monarch butterflies cover a surprisingly long distance of 3,000 miles from far Northern Canada to Mexico and the California coast in autumn each year.

Researchers had been thinking that the non-migratory populations of Monarch butterflies would have less collagen, which structures connective tissue in their bodies, as they would require less muscle mass. But, the study revealed exactly the opposite -migratory populations of the beautiful creature were found to have less collagen.

Marcus Kronforst, professor of ecology & evolution, said, "I find it amazing that these little butterflies live for months and fly thousands of miles to perform this annual migration. Our study shows that monarchs have been doing this every year for millions of years."

Researchers found that a gene, called Collagen IV alpha-1, was responsible for the crucial difference in the flying abilities of the non-migratory and migratory populations of the Monarch butterfly.

Kronforst explained that the difference in the gene in the two species of the butterfly is something like the difference between a sprinter, who runs short-distance race at a fast speed, and a marathon runner, who runs long-distance race at a slow sped. A sprinter has hefty body as he/she needs additional power for a short distance; while marathoner is leaner with more evolved muscles as long-distance race demands more endurance than power.

Detailed findings of the research appeared in the journal Nature.

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