Monarch migration demystified in new IMAX film premiering in Chattanooga

Authored By Mary Barnett

In what has been described as part detective story, part historical drama and part scientific adventure, the annual 2,000-mile journey of hundreds of millions of migrating monarch butterflies has been demystified, thanks to the 40-year obsession of zoologist/biologist and university professor Dr. Fred Urquhart and three teams of filmmakers.

In 2011 and 2012, film crews tracked the butterflies on their migration from winter sanctuaries in Central Mexico, where the insects roost for several months. In the film, the crews follow the butterflies as they head north through the southern United States, where the females lay hundreds of eggs. Everyone continues north to Canada before turning around and doing it all over again.

The epic journey is considered to be one of the longest insect migrations on earth known to scientists.


According to, the North American monarch is the only type of butterfly to make such a long, two-way migration every year, a behavior that is more similar to whales and birds than other insects.

“In all the world, no butterflies migrate like the monarchs of North America. They travel much farther than all other tropical butterflies, up to 3,000 miles. Amazingly, they fly in masses to the same winter roosts, often to the exact same trees,” the website says.

“Flight of the Butterflies 3-D” premieres in Chattanooga at the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3-D theater Oct. 5.