I am directionally challenged. This seems ludicrous given I love maps, excel at geography and am known by my colleagues as “the human GPS”. When I send out physicians and NPs to see our home hospice patients, they invariably call me when they get lost. Yet I often make wrong turns and end up lost when going somewhere new. That’s why thinking of monarch butterflies navigating an incredible journey of 3000 miles fills me with sheer amazement.
Autumn brings many joys to my heart watching nature change before my eyes. I learn something new each year about God’s amazing creation during this time. This year, my husband and I learned about the migration habits of hummingbirds. After their backyard visits ebbed, we considered removing the feeders. Until one day we saw several more hummingbirds visit our yard. My husband looked up some information about their habits. To our delight, we found our yard was part of a migration route as they moved south. So we kept the feeders available tickled at the opportunity to host the weary travelers!
An Incredible Journey
Enjoying the new knowledge of the hummingbird migration reminded me of another migration. As the chill of autumn settles in, the monarch butterflies also migrate. Uniquely, monarch butterflies have the distinction of the only butterfly species to make a two-way migration as birds do. Unlike other butterflies that can overwinter as larvae, pupae, or even as adults in some species, monarchs cannot survive the cold winters of northern climates. Documentation shows migrations as far as 3,000 miles from Nova Scotia, Canada to Michoacan, Mexico.
Each monarch butterfly only makes this round trip once in its lifetime. Navigating an incredible journey, with remarkable precision to a destination that it has never been before. Adults die in the northern climates leaving their offspring to return to the place of their ancestors; sometimes to the exact oyamel fir tree! After overwintering, they return to the place they started in the north. Scientists still struggle to explain this phenomenon. Though relocated by scientists or blown off course by trade winds, they still end up in the right place. Scientists believe the monarch truly has intelligent navigation skills, using the angle of sunlight and the earth’s magnetic field.
An Incredible Insect
Similar to other butterflies, the monarch butterfly goes through four stages of development before becoming a butterfly. The female lays between 400 to 800 eggs only on milkweed plants. It will not lay its eggs on any other plant! In only three to six days, a caterpillar emerges from the egg. The caterpillar reaches full maturity in approximately twenty days, after which it enters the chrysalis in a mere sixty seconds time. Within eight days, a butterfly emerges, just thirty one days after the laying of the egg!
Aside from the monarch’s superior navigation system, it’s entire design is remarkable. Going into the chrysalis with six simple eyes, it emerges with two new compound eyes that can see every color that a human can see plus ultraviolet light. Each eye has 6,000 lenses or simple eyes. The monarch’s eyes are the most elaborate and complex in all the animal kingdom. The monarch butterfly has four wings. On these four wings are about one million scales. The monarch cruises at about 10 miles per hour, but can fly as fast as 30 miles per hour in still air. Imagine, this beautiful and splendid butterfly created from a caterpillar in just eight days!
An Incredible lesson
Pondering the magnificence of the monarch butterfly and its skill at navigating an incredible journey, points to a majestic Creator. Who else but God could create an insect with such an intricate design? Even more than the awe inspired by this creature, are the lessons learned from observing its life. If God engineered such intricacy and splendor into a butterfly, creating man in His image is beyond our ability to grasp. Indeed, “what is man, that He is mindful of us?” (Psalm 8:4)
God often points us to creation to learn of Him. As I considered the monarch butterfly, my mind rested on a few truths. Beyond the beautiful picture of transformation that butterflies represent, this particular butterfly speaks of God’s faithfulness in new ways to me.
Another aspect of the monarch butterfly’s design is its food supply. The caterpillar and butterfly eat the milkweed plant exclusively. The milkweed plant contains an alkaloid compound that makes the insect noxious to birds who try to eat it. A bird who eats the monarch becomes sick and quickly learns to avoid that delicacy!
God provides an exclusive spiritual food for us too, His Word. When we study the Bible, learning to rightly divide the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15),we mature in spiritual growth. Additionally, digesting this truth, memorizing and applying it, protects us from harmful ways, sinful desires and the enemy of our souls.
Since the adult parents of young monarch butterflies die in the northern climate, how do the young monarchs know about migration? How do they know when to leave, where to go? When to come back? Imagine such a fragile insect navigating an incredible journey at times so exact each year, that tourists show up to see them. We see the hand of a magnificent Creator guiding, directing and enabling them each year to fulfill their God given purpose.
In the same way, God guides, directs and enables us to fulfill our God given purpose. Just as the monarchs make a journey to a place they have never seen, we also travel to a place never before seen. As I wrote about recently in my post, “When God Leads Where You Didn’t Choose”, God wisely leads us. The Good Shepherd leads us not only in paths on this earth, but ultimately to our final destination with Him. He enables us in every way to fulfill His good purposes in our lives.
Thanks to metamorphosis, the butterfly serves as a beautiful picture of spiritual transformation. The transformation that begins with a caterpillar and ends with a completely different creature! Learning about metamorphosis remains a fond childhood memory for most adults. But its magnificent mystery remains unknown to many. Once inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar actually releases enzymes that completely digest the insect except for the genetic “disc” cells that will divide over and over until the new creature, a butterfly is formed. And all of that in no more than eight days!
I’m sure many of us recall the biblical object lesson using a butterfly to explain the transformation that takes place at salvation. How we become “new creatures” in Christ. True enough, love that object lesson. The monarch butterfly not only undergoes that transformation from caterpillar to butterfly, but the migration alters its size and wing span. As I thought about it, my mind went to the process of sanctification. That lifelong process of conforming to the image of Christ, so that when we see Him, we shall be like Him. Over the course of our spiritual journey of sanctification, we continue our transformation.
Navigating an incredible journey
Contemplating the migration of the monarch butterfly gives me another reason to enjoy autumn. The wonder of this spectacular insect truly speaks of a glorious Creator. A wise, sovereign God who created all things according to His will, purpose and good pleasure.
God reveals Himself and His ways to us through His creation. The monarch butterfly reminds us of God’s tremendous faithfulness as He guides, directs and enables us to fulfill His good purposes. As we watch the monarch bring glory to God, we find hope and confidence that we too, will be transformed just as our Sovereign God planned.
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