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Flight of the Butterflies

Join the Most Incredible Migration on Earth

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A pair of monarchs rests on a wildflower.

Monarchs fill the sky, providing a breathtaking view.

Closeup of monarch butterfly

Stephanie Sigmen as Catalina Aguado & Shaun Benson as Ken Brugger Photo Credit: "Courtesy of SK Films"

Closeup of monarchs drinking

Closeup of monarch caterpillar

Patricia Phillips & Gordon Pinsent as Norah & Fred Urquhart

Monarch butterfly cluster

Butterfly haven

Enchanted butterfly forest

Monarch butterflies resting on tree trunk

Closeup of monarchs.

A single monarch takes flight off a milkweed leaf.

A lone monarch butterfly emerges from its chrysalis under a picnic table in Toronto.

A single monarch lands on a bluebonnet on location in Texas.

The sun briefly awakens the roosting monarchs from their fir-tree perches to take a drink.

Monarch butterflies gathering in the El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary in Mexico.

A single monarch rests on milkweed, a plant it needs to survive. It exclusively lays its eggs on milkweed, the caterpillars immediately eat its leaves to fatten up quickly and adults drink its nectar, along with nectar of other plants.

The iconic monarch butterfly is a true marvel of nature. It weighs less than a penny, yet it makes one of the longest migrations on Earth across a continent, with pinpoint navigational accuracy, to a secluded place it has never been. In Flight of the Butterflies, you’ll join the monarchs' perilous and extraordinary journey while following an intrepid scientist’s 40-year search to find the monarchs’ secret hideaway. Featuring breathtaking cinematography, an award-winning production team, a true scientific mystery, and hundreds of millions of real butterflies, Flight of the Butterflies soars on the giant IMAX Dome screen.

  • For the first time ever, witness the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly, inside a chrysalis.

  • Travel to the remote mountain peaks of Mexico and discover the secret overwintering site of millions of monarchs.

  • Join Dr. Fred Urquhart and his family on a decades-long quest to unravel a scientific mystery.

Flight of the Butterflies Earns Rave Reviews!

Visitors, members, students and teachers love Flight of the Butterflies. Reviewers do, too, giving it 4 OUT OF 4 STAR REVIEWS!

Gold Star Review

A Butterfly Love Story

Monarch ButterflyFlight of the Butterflies is more than a mere movie about insects: It’s also a true love story. Born in Toronto, Fred Urquhart’s love of butterflies began as a boy. Fred was fascinated by the world of insects, including butterflies, and spent endless hours observing them. He became a zoology professor and married a fellow teacher and lover of butterflies, Norah Patterson. She took up his quest, and a partnership was born.

Together, Fred and Norah experimented with ways to track butterflies, spending years perfecting the right tag to stick on delicate and moisture-sensitive butterfly wings. By 1940, they had created a tag made to stick. The tiny label read “Send to Zoology University of Toronto Canada.” Once they began tagging, they realized they’d need more help.

Fred and Norah founded the first Insect Migration Association, known today as Monarch Watch, enlisting thousands of volunteers across North America to tag hundreds of thousands of butterflies in order to track their migration route. In 1975, this association ultimately helped Dr. Urquhart determine where millions of butterflies migrated: to the remote Transvolcanic Belt of central Mexico.

The first citizen scientists in Mexico were Ken Brugger and his wife, Catalina Aguado—another pair of butterfly lovers. They responded to an ad the Urquharts placed in a Mexican newspaper asking for help in the search. Under Dr. Urquhart’s direction, they spent almost two years seeking monarchs in the mountains west of Mexico City before finally coming upon millions of butterflies 10,000 feet above sea level on Cerro Pelon on the border of the States of Mexico and Michoacan in 1975. National Geographic featured the discovery in their August 1976 issue, and this incredible culmination of Dr. Urquhart’s search is recreated in Flight of the Butterflies.

The Making of the Film

Phillips and PinsentThe award-winning production team, including Oscar® winner Peter Parks, followed the year-long migration cycle of the monarch butterflies, from Canada, through the United States, to remote 10,000-foot-high peaks in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico, and back, through generations.

Monarch santuraryIn order to access these protected areas, the team worked closely with government officials and nature conservation groups to obtain permits and permissions to film in these sanctuaries. The team then had the challenge of transporting IMAX cameras and massive rigs up the mountainside. The team filmed in the butterfly sanctuaries in 2011 and 2012 and was able to capture the awe and wonder of them through extraordinary cinematography.

About the Monarchs

Butterfly StagesBefore a butterfly can flap its wings, it starts out as something completely different and transforms itself through four stages. First it’s an egg, then a caterpillar, next a pupa in its chrysalis, and it finally emerges as a butterfly. This entire process takes about four weeks from start to finish; although the warmer it is, the shorter the cycle.

Inside the Pupa

Over the course of a two-week period, a butterfly begins to form within this delicate cocoon. Fed oxygen by hundreds of fine breathing tubes, the butterfly’s brain, heart and digestive tract change shape and size. Its mouth evolves from what the caterpillar needed to chew milkweed leaves into a straw-like tongue allowing the adult butterfly to sip nectar from flowers. New powerful flight muscles develop and compound eyes form. Last to mature are the butterfly’s long legs and sturdy wings, completing this unbelievable metamorphosis, captured in stunning detail in the film.

The Most Incredible Migration on Earth

Migration MapSeveral migration routes in central southern Canada lead down through the central U.S. Several others start in western North America and merge with central ones. The majority of monarchs who survive obstacles and predators manage to thread a geographical needle, hitting a 50-mile-wide gap of cool river valleys between Eagle Pass, Texas, and Del Rio, Texas, and then wind their way to a small number of specific high mountain peaks in central Mexico where they roost. After resting there for several months, the same generation returns north to Texas and other parts of the southern United States, where the females lay hundreds of eggs.

A Scientific Marvel

It takes two to three generations of butterflies to migrate north from Mexico through the U.S. up to Canada but only one “Super Generation” to complete the migration back south again to Mexico. The “Super Generation” is bigger and lives eight to 10 times longer than the other generations. These super athletes may travel all the way from Canada to Mexico. Unlike other generations, they do not mate during the journey. They stay in Mexico over the winter to rest. Then, after several months, the monarchs make the first part of the journey back to the U.S. and Canada. When they get to Texas, they lay their eggs, and the amazing cycle begins again. Scientists have not been able to fully explain what triggers this mystery of the natural world.

A Threatened Migration

The World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) March 2012 report from Mexico shows that the number of monarch butterflies wintering there has dropped by nearly one third since 2011. This is a staggering loss.

The number is measured by the amount of forest the butterflies occupy, and in 2012, the number of butterfly acres has decreased from approximately nine to seven.

The Mexican government has made logging near the sanctuaries illegal, but enforcement is difficult in remote regions. In 2008, UNESCO declared the monarch butterfly reserve in Mexico a World Heritage Site. The WWF has classified the Monarch as “Near Threatened,” which means they are likely to qualify for threatened status in the near future. The three main reasons for this threat include illegal logging, industrial farming, and climate change.

A share of the film’s revenue will be donated to Fondo Mexicano para la Conservación de la Naturaleza, Mexico’s leading conservation organization, to go toward monarch conservation efforts.

Escucha el audio en español mientras ves la función en inglés. Solicita los audífonos de cortesía en la taquilla.

DVS: Descriptive Video Services adjustable captioning devices allow visitors to see film captions by using a cupholder device within their view. This allows visitors with visual and hearing impairments to hear audio more clearly or hear descriptive film narration alongside film audio through headphones. 

DVS is available for all films unless otherwise noted.