Friday, October 13, 2006

The memory of the monarch

A monarch butterfly feeds on milkweed flowers outside our house.

The ubiquitous milkweed is crucial to the monarchs' survival during their migrations to and from their southern wintering sites. This particular plant is actually called "Butterfly Milkweed," and it can be found all from New York to Minnesota, often covered in monarchs. Kind of the Denny's of the butterfly world. Milkweed plants often serve as home to the insects' larvae, and pollen stored as fat provides the butterflies with the energy to make migrations of nearly 3,000 miles.

Monarch butterflies demonstrate a form of inherited knowledge that goes beyond simple behavioral instinct. The monarch in this photo is on his way to a forest in southern Florida or Mexico, the same forest where his now-deceased grandfather or great-grandfather spent last winter. Despite the passing of one or two generations that never had the need to make the trip back south, this butterfly will be able to find his way. I wonder if Carl Jung knew about this? It sounds like butterflies have a collective unconscious, whether or not we do.


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