The North American monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is a prominent model organism to study long-distance migration in insects. During summer, these butterflies can be found at their breeding sides in southeastern Canada and eastern United States. Each fall, when the days become shorter and colder, millions of monarch butterflies start their migration to their overwintering habitat in Central Mexico. To maintain their southerly migratory direction over thousands of kilometers, these butterflies rely on celestial cues as orientation references.
My PhD project is focused on the use of different celestial cues, such as the sun, the intensity and color gradient of the sky and the pattern of polarized light, in the migratory monarch butterfly. In a series of behavioral experiments in the field, I will study the reliability and relevance of celestial cues in butterflies. In addition, I aim to focus on the neuroarchitecture of the celestial compass network in the brain of Danaus plexippus.
Franzke, M., Kraus, C., Dreyer, D., Pfeiffer, K., Beetz, M. J., Stöckl, A. L., Foster, J. J., Warrant, E. J., and el Jundi, B. (2020) Spatial orientation based on multiple visual cues in non-migratory monarch butterflies, Journal of Experimental Biology, The Company of Biologists Ltd - early online.