The red admiral butterfly is one of several short distance migratory butterfly species. It cannot survive Northern winters, so it heads south in the fall to spend the cold season in Georgia and other Southern states. Photo credit Charles J Sharp/Creative Commons
Photo: Charles J. Sharp/Creative Commons
Photo: Charles J. Sharp/Creative Commons

We’ll soon see southbound swarms of butterflies, dragonflies

Among all of the world’s butterflies, monarchs stand out because of their amazing long-distance migrations each spring and fall. Any day now, we should start seeing southbound swarms of these iconic creatures as they begin passing through Georgia on their way to Mexico for the winter — some 2,000 miles away.

Perhaps less noticed will be several other species of butterflies and some dragonfly species also heading to warmer climes for the winter — although their migratory treks won’t cover nearly the great distances traveled by monarchs.

Among other butterfly species that migrate are the painted lady, common buckeye, American lady, red admiral, cloudless sulphur, long-tailed skipper, question mark, fiery skipper, mourning cloak and the sachem skipper. Many of them are from up North and will pass through Georgia or even stop here for the winter.

For instance, the red admiral, a medium-sized butterfly with black wings, orange stripes and white spots, can’t survive Northern winters. When cool weather sets in, red admirals from up North head south to spend the winter in Georgia and other Southern states. They will lay eggs and produce new generations. Come spring, their offspring will head back north, repopulating Northern states and even parts of Canada.

Also southbound for the winter are several dragonfly species. Dragonfly migration is one of the most fascinating events in the insect world, but also one of the least-known. In Georgia, migrating dragonflies include the common green darner, wandering glider, spot-winged glider and saddlebags, according to naturalist Giff Beaton in his book “Dragonflies and Damselflies of Georgia and the Southeast.”

The individuals now heading south will be replaced on their way north in the spring by their offspring, he noted.

Occasionally, dragonflies may migrate in swarms of thousands or even millions of individuals. Little is known about the behavior, and scientists are undertaking studies to try to understand it.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon will be new tonight. The only two planets visible now are Jupiter in the southwest at dusk (and appearing near the moon on Thursday night), and Saturn in the south just after dark.

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