A newly developed flight simulator allows monarch butterflies to fly actively for up to several hours in any horizontal direction while their fall migratory flight direction can be continuously recorded. From these data, long segments of virtual flight paths of tethered, flying, migratory monarch butterflies were reconstructed, and by advancing or retarding the butterflies' circadian clocks, we have shown that they possess a time-compensated sun compass. Control monarchs on local time fly approximately southwest, those 6-h time-advanced fly southeast, and 6-h time-delayed butterflies fly in northwesterly directions. Moreover, butterflies flown in the same apparatus under simulated overcast in natural magnetic fields were randomly oriented and did not change direction when magnetic fields were rotated. Therefore, these experiments do not provide any evidence that monarch butterflies use a magnetic compass during migration.
Butterflies were collected from Lake Ontario and brought to QUBS for the flight experiments