Thursday, January 04, 2007

Monarchs in Mexico

I have over a dozen family members living in Mexico and over the years I have visited them several times. On December 23 my niece was married in Tepic, Nayarit and five members of the family from Canada were able to attend.

After the wedding, my parents, along with two of my brothers and their families, went to visit the monarch butterfly wintering grounds near Angangueo, Michoacan in central Mexico.

I am really sorry that I missed this trip!

My father sent me some photos today, and I have been reading up on the incredible trip these butterflies take. Bev, at Burning Silo, had several informative posts about monarchs in Canada. She raised and tagged many butterflies this past summer and fall. Laura chronicled the development of a butterfly at her place, and my daughter and I watched a lone monarch develop from the caterpillar stage in September.

I gleaned these facts from an informative site devoted to tracking migratory species, including monarch butterflies . The Journey North web site is worth visiting for more information.

Monarch butterfly overwintering colonies are found in Mexico's oyamel fir forest, a unique mountain habitat. Oyamel firs (Abies religiosa) grow only at high altitudes, between 2,400 and 3,600 meters. (about 10,000’). The distribution of the oyamel fir forest in Mexico is extremely limited.

Much has been written about illegal logging in these rare forests and the threat that has brought to the monarch's winter habitat. This is a village on the way to the sanctuary, and it is typical of any number of poor Mexican communities. People who live in poverty are less inclined to be concerned about preservation of an ecosystem than they are about their own survival. With the discovery of the monarch winter home, a significant tourist industry has emerged. This has impacted the economy of the area as souvenirs are sold, guides are needed and food and lodging is required for visitors. There has been international pressure on the Mexican government to preserve this unique habitat.

My dad writes, "The parking lot is 3200 meters and the view spot is at about 3400 meters. It was VERY WINDY AND COLD. Most of us walked up to 3500 meters and down the other side of the mountain to the sanctuary of butterflies."
It looks like Dad rode a horse instead. Mom is pictured above wearing a real butterfly. I think it is a flattering accessory.

I will have to plan my next trip to Mexico in January or February and put in a special request for someone in the family to take me to this spot.


  1. My choice of plantings this year finally brought me monarchs and swallowtails.
    At the end of this summer, I was doing an Ed. program at a state park, and the audience and I kept track of the monarchs we saw and what direction they were flying. In 10 minutes, we saw 30 of them in total, and every single one was heading south. What a cool insect.
    I hope Mexico does what is necessary so the rest of us can keep enjoying them.
    I want to go on that trip, too!

  2. I vividly remember being around 10 years old and seeing the monarchs through here on their way south. It was spectacular as the sky was full of them. I've never seen them since. Just beautiful!

  3. You really need to visit that sanctuary, Ruth. It must be just breathtaking to see hundreds of Monarchs! Thanks for sharing your Dad's story and photos. I learned a lot.

  4. Great post, Ruth. I've often wondered what it's like to visit the cloud forests where they winter. I can't imagine seeing thousands upon thousands of butterflies together in one place!

  5. Susan- You do some really interesting work. You must be a great communicator. I would prefer a trip to see monarchs over a cruise any day!

    Jayne-I have never seen more than a few butterflies at one time. It is so amazing that a newly emerged butterfly knows the migratory route.

    Mary- It is great to have family in interesting places around the world. I just need more time and $ to visit them frequently.

    Laura- Even in the Mexican forests there are weather risks. This week there was a a freeze that reportedly killed 25% of the butterflies. In 2002 a storm killed over 75% of them. What a precarious existence!

  6. Nice post on Monarchs, Ruth. I've yet to see them in Mexico, but have been to the place where thousands of them winter on the eucalyptus trees in a park in Pacific Grove near Monterey, CA. When it's overcast and cool, they stay on the tree branches looking like dull leaves -- but when the sun comes out from behind the clouds, many leave the branches and flit around for awhile. Quite a sight to see so many gathered together!

  7. Bev- One of the pictures my dad sent was exactly as you described;- dull leaves on tree branches. I didn't use the picture because I thought it was overexposed. It was very cold, and my family did not see the butterflies flying in large numbers. Interesting that they choose eucalyptus trees on the west coast.


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