55M Monarchs Can't Be Wrong

Internal clock of 1-ounce butterfly sheds light on human sense of time
By Ambreen Ali,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 11, 2008 4:58 PM CST
55M Monarchs Can't Be Wrong
Humans share a light-sensitive gene with the monarch butterfly that scientists say could be what guides our sleeping cycle. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)   (Associated Press)

The 1-ounce monarch butterfly may have a thing or two to teach us: Each year, some 55 million monarchs make a 4,000-mile multigenerational journey from Canada to Mexico, returning to the same forest, often the same tree, without relying on GPS. How? The insects rely on a unique internal clock that may be the prototype for our own, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Two types of light-sensitive genes guide the butterflies, which breed and die every few weeks en route, leaving the next generation to continue the journey. New research shows the gene working like a stopwatch to create a sense of how much time has passed. That innate chronometer allows butterflies to navigate over astonishing distances. "In its biochemical essence," the Journal writes, "the monarch butterfly is a distillation of time and light, given wing." (Read more monarch butterflies stories.)

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