Royal Society Publishing

Juvenile hormone regulation of longevity in the migratory monarch butterfly

William S. Herman , Marc Tatar

Abstract

Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) of eastern North America are well known for their long–range migration to overwintering roosts in south–central Mexico. An essential feature of this migration involves the exceptional longevity of the migrant adults; individuals persist from August/September to March while their summer counterparts are likely to live less than two months as adults. Migrant adults persist during a state of reproductive diapause in which both male and female reproductive development is arrested as a consequence of suppressed synthesis of juvenile hormone. Here, we describe survival in monarch butterflies as a function of the migrant syndrome. We show that migrant adults are longer lived than summer adults when each are maintained under standard laboratory conditions, that the longevity of migrant adults is curtailed by treatment with juvenile hormone and that the longevity of summer adults is increased by 100% when juvenile hormone synthesis is prevented by surgical removal of its source, the corpora allatum. Thus, monarch butterfly persistence through a long winter season is ensured in part by reduced ageing that is under endocrine regulation, as well as by the unique environmental properties of their winter roost sites. Phenotypic plasticity for ageing is an integral component of the monarch butterflies' migration–diapause syndrome.