Unravelling the migratory compass of monarch butterflies

Basil el Jundi
Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway

Date(s) : 19/01/2023   iCal
14 h 00 min - 15 h 00 min

Each fall, millions of monarch butterflies migrate over up to 5.000 km from North America and Canada to their overwintering habitat in the mountain ranges of Central Mexico. To maintain their direction, these butterflies rely on the sun as their main orientation reference. In my research group, we are interested in understanding how these fragile butterflies use the sun for orientation to maintain a directed migratory direction and how they master such a remarkable migration despite exhibiting a brain that is smaller than a grain of rice. We are studying the sun compass of monarch butterflies through behavioral and neuroanatomical techniques, as well as through electrophysiological approaches, such as multichannel tetrode recordings from tethered-flying butterflies. Our recent results show that the butterfly’s internal sun compass consists of head-direction neurons, steering neurons, as well as neurons that represent the animal’s goal direction. Together, these neurons establish a navigation network in brain that represents the animal’s current heading and the desired goal direction, generating steering commands whenever the butterfly deviates from its migratory course.

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