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Solar-powered Sensors Track Migratory Route Conditions

Dr. André Green and a group of engineers and biologists from the University of Michigan develop a remarkable system for determining the daily flight path of migrating monarchs.

November 28, 2020

How does one track the flight of a butterfly over long distances? 

In response to the MBF's Flight Challenge issued in 2017 to track monarch migration, Dr. Green's team designed a tiny solar-powered sensor - so small that it was only one-tenth of the weight of an adult monarch and equal to the weight of a flake of uncooked oatmeal. Attached to the back (dorsal thorax) of the butterfly (see photo below), the sensor records time, temperature, dawn and dusk each day, wherever the butterfly was located. 

Tiny sensor attached to back of monarch
Tiny sensor attached to back of monarch

When a sensor-bearing monarch that survives the flight to the overwintering grounds comes into the range of a detector at the end of migration, data from the sensor gets downloaded revealing the butterfly’s location and conditions each day. 

A representative publication of the group is accessible HERE, and a full article on the pilot system is on our Publications page under Flight Challenge.

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