The “sphinx butterfly of death” has been tracked using microscopic tracking devices.
The death sphinx butterfly alters its flying direction during its nightly migration in reaction to winds and topographical characteristics to maintain its trajectory, indicating that these creatures employ a complex mechanism throughout their trips. Internal navigation maps or compasses.
The research reveals that complicated migratory tactics are not exclusive to vertebrates. Every year, billions of migrating insects such as butterflies, locusts, and moths migrate tremendous distances throughout the planet. How various insects perform long-distance seasonal migrations is poorly known.
Lepidoptera that migrate at night, like the death sphinx butterfly, traverse 4,000 kilometers between Europe and sub-Saharan Africa.
Individual moths have never been seen migrating due to the difficulty of monitoring tiny nocturnal creatures across vast distances. Therefore, it’s uncertain how these species maintain straight flight routes over extended distances.
Myles Menz of the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior (now at Australia’s James Cook University) and colleagues followed seven death sphinx butterflies from an aircraft during their nocturnal migratory flights.
Menz and colleagues observed that these moths not only flew in one direction with advantageous tailwinds, but also corrected their individual flight trajectories to maintain straight flight paths to their desired destinations.
According to the research authors, a moth’s straight flight route and speed throughout the night in varying winds indicate it possesses an internal compass. This and the butterfly’s extraordinary night vision imply it uses visual markers and the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate during migration.