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Nat Commun. 2012 Jul 17;3:958. doi: 10.1038/ncomms1965.

Discordant timing between antennae disrupts sun compass orientation in migratory monarch butterflies.

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Department of Neurobiology, University of Massachusetts Medical School, 364 Plantation Street, Worcester, Massachusetts 01605, USA.


To navigate during their long-distance migration, monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) use a time-compensated sun compass. The sun compass timing elements reside in light-entrained circadian clocks in the antennae. Here we show that either antenna is sufficient for proper time compensation. However, migrants with either antenna painted black (to block light entrainment) and the other painted clear (to permit light entrainment) display disoriented group flight. Remarkably, when the black-painted antenna is removed, re-flown migrants with a single, clear-painted antenna exhibit proper orientation behaviour. Molecular correlates of clock function reveal that period and timeless expression is highly rhythmic in brains and clear-painted antennae, while rhythmic clock gene expression is disrupted in black-painted antennae. Our work shows that clock outputs from each antenna are processed and integrated together in the monarch time-compensated sun compass circuit. This dual timing system is a novel example of the regulation of a brain-driven behaviour by paired organs.

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