Sun compass neurons are tuned to migratory orientation in monarch butterflies. Academic Article uri icon


  • Every autumn, monarch butterflies migrate from North America to their overwintering sites in Central Mexico. To maintain their southward direction, these butterflies rely on celestial cues as orientation references. The position of the sun combined with additional skylight cues are integrated in the central complex, a region in the butterfly's brain that acts as an internal compass. However, the central complex does not solely guide the butterflies on their migration but also helps monarchs in their non-migratory form manoeuvre on foraging trips through their habitat. By comparing the activity of input neurons of the central complex between migratory and non-migratory butterflies, we investigated how a different lifestyle affects the coding of orientation information in the brain. During recording, we presented the animals with different simulated celestial cues and found that the encoding of the sun was narrower in migratory compared to non-migratory butterflies. This feature might reflect the need of the migratory monarchs to rely on a precise sun compass to keep their direction during their journey. Taken together, our study sheds light on the neural coding of celestial cues and provides insights into how a compass is adapted in migratory animals to successfully steer them to their destination.

published proceedings

  • Proc Biol Sci

altmetric score

  • 12.35

author list (cited authors)

  • Nguyen, T., Beetz, M. J., Merlin, C., & El Jundi, B.

citation count

  • 10

complete list of authors

  • Nguyen, Tu Anh Thi||Beetz, M Jerome||Merlin, Christine||El Jundi, Basil

publication date

  • February 2021