The Monarch Butterfly in Mexico

In the north (the United States and Canada) these fragile creatures are spread out, but in Mexico almost all of them go to the top of the same mountain in Angangueo.

The population is so dense that you can hear the sound of the flapping of their wings when the sun hits the trees and they take off to fly in the sun.

And when the monarchs are in the trees the branches bend from their weight.

monarch butterfly

___________________click the photo to
see it in color_________________


During the summer the monarch lives in the northern US and Canada. At the end of the summer it begins it's southward migration and on November 1st punctually all the monarchs arrive in Michoacan.
They spend the winter in Michoacan, Mexico and mate and in the spring return north. As these fragile creatures have a lifespan of only a few months the monarchs who came to Mexico from Canada are not the ones who return, but their offspring. So the monarch migrating to Canada in the spring never went there before. And likewise the monarch leaving Canada and the northern US to migrate to Mexico never went there before. Each trip is a new generation, but yet each new generation knows to return to this same mountain. So if they can find it, so can you.
Take a bus from Mexico City to Zitacuaro, Michoacan. Then a local bus for about one hour to Angangueo.
Most hotels here offer fireplaces and firewood as it gets cool at that altitude.
In our hotel the fireplace backed up as it was some time since they cleaned the chimney.
In the morning you hire a pick-up truck to take you up the mountain and after a half hour bumpy ride over a dirt trail you climb for another half hour on foot to see this miracle.
Going up the mountain you pass small remote villages whose life is dedicated to the butterly where almost everyone is engaged in the task of making monarch butterfly souvenirs. You can find monarch butterfly plates; napkin holders; pins; the people of the town are most grateful to the Canadian who discovered that the monarch migrates here in the winter.
Thanks to him they have a thriving tourist industry.
So why didn't the locals realize the monarchs were their neighbors?
They were either too busy in the mines or partying.
In it's trip south the little butterfly travels about 70 miles per day; it travels over 1,800 miles in about 25 days.
And it's only a few inches long. It only flies during the day. During the night they eat. The descendants from last year's trip feed on alkaloid plants commonly called swamp milkweed or cow's tongue which are poisonous to other species. For the monarch this is a form of protection as if a bird would try to eat it the bird would die from an accelerating heart rate. Knowing this all the birds leave the colorful monarch alone.
Click on any photo to see it in color enlarged with more information

The town as seen
from the beat-up
pick-up on the
bumpy dirt road

Yes, the trees do
bend from their
weight! Hard to
believe but true!

They even cover
the ground and
alight on your arm
and head
they are friendly

After mating the male
has used all his energy.
The female who doesn't
understand this wants to chat but the poor tired male wants to sleep or
watch TV but as his wife keeps bothering him, he dies

The sky is filled
with monarchs

This tree
is covered with

Here our guide
explains the difference
between the male and female
this was the highlight
of the adventure
for me

Unlike birds or wildebees that also embark on epic migrations, these individual monarch butterflies will never return. They make the trip one way. Then a new generation goes back to Canada.
How does each generation know the way?
As the days get shorter and the temperatures drop down, monarch butterflies begin to abandon breeding and feeding territories in search of a safe place to spend the winter.
For monarch butterflies, that overwintering ground is found high up on just a few mountains in central Mexico. Once there, the monarch butterflies huddle together by the millions on the branches of oyamel fir trees.
The tree canopy and ecosystem in Mexico provides a blanket effect for the monarch butterflies, so the temperatures don’t go too high or too low.
As adults, monarch butterflies visit countless numbers of wildflowers each year as they seek out nutrient-rich nectar. In doing so, the monarch butterflies transfer pollen from one plant to another and assist in those species’ reproduction.
The biosphere mariposa monarcha (monarch butterfly) is a World Heritage Site.
A World Heritage site is an area which is selected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as having cultural, historical, scientific or other form of important significance, and is legally protected by international treaties.
The sites are judged important to the collective interests of humanity. So you'll want to visit it.
The monarch butterfly reserve extends from the mountainous forests of eastern Michoacán to western Mexico State around 100 km northwest of Mexico City.
The reserve in Michoacán contains the highest elevations in the state, including peaks that reach 2,700 metres above sea level.
That's tall.

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