Puerto Vallarta, The amazing Monarch Butterfly migrates over 3000 miles from as far north as Canada, parts of the US all the way to the mountains of Michoacán, a state bordering Mexico City. They seem to like to perch on the Oyamel Fir trees that cover the mountain slopes
One of the most amazing things about the Monarch is that the average Monarch lives only 3-4 weeks. They Monarch have developed the ability to produce a generation of Butterfly born once a year, near the end of the summer who can live up to 9 months, they do not breed in their northern habitat, instead store nectar to fuel them for the long trip to the south. The adult Monarch has a wing span of approx 4 ½ inches usually weighs a one gram or less, however they have a secret weapon that enables them to survive the long arduous journey. One of the main food sources when in the Caterpillar stage is Milkweed. Milkweed contains a chemical that is toxic to many species, somehow the Monarch Butterfly has the unique ability to digest and store this toxic product and store it in their outer skin. This gives the Monarch a powerful defense against predators for the long journey west of Mexico City.
Migrating Monarch butterflies travel in colonies of about 20 million insects and will travel between 80-120 nautical miles per day, depending on the wind and other weather conditions. The butterflies take advantage of ascending warm-air currents, gliding in the thrust they provide, needing only to flap their wings when the air current diminishes a little or when they change their flight path. This technique uses their energy efficiently, and physically enables them to undertake the long journey.
The butterflies travel only by day and will roost overnight, usually on the branches and trunks of trees.
By around mid-November each year, the Monarch butterflies will begin arriving in Mexico. They settle in the oyamel fir tree forests which are situated in the eastern perimeter of the Mexican state of Michoacán, also bordering the state of Mexico, in the forested mountains west of Mexico City.
Once here, the butterflies cluster on the tree trunks and remain in the area for the winter. As the sun heats the day, some of the butterflies will flutter in the forests and return to the tree trunks when the air cools.
Monarch Sanctuaries in Mexico
The butterflies begin arriving from mid-November each year. January and February are the most popular months for visits, as it’s during this time that the butterfly population is at its peak.
The sanctuaries are open to the public between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. seven days a week. Weekends are considerably busier that week days, especially in January and February.
You can visit one of the sanctuaries independently or you can go as part of an organized Monarch Butterflies Tour. Most guided tours visit the El Rosario or Sierra Chincua reserves.
The Mexican government has set up a number of protected sanctuaries within a biosphere reserve to ensure that the important habitats required by the Monarch Butterflies are protected and preserved, while still allowing visitors to witness these remarkable insects and enjoy some of Mexico’s most breath-taking landscapes.
The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve covers an area of over 560 square kilometers (350 square miles) and has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site since 2008.
Monarch Butterfly Sanctuaries:
There are four sanctuaries open to the public, two in the state of Michoacán and two others in the state of Mexico. The biosphere is on the eastern edge of the state of Michoacán and crosses into the state of Mexico. The two most frequented sanctuaries are:
El Rosario – Near the town of Ocampo in the state of Michoacán
Sierra Chincua – Near the town of Angangueo in the state of Michoacán
YouTube: Monarch Butterflies
If you are interested in seeing this miracle of nature check out Monarch Butterfly tours in Mexico, contact Mexperience and we’ll help you make it happen: Plan Your Mexico Trip
The Monarch’s Reproduction & Journey Back North
In February, when the temperatures begin to rise, the Monarchs begin their mating rituals. The females will lay over 400 eggs each on the fine leaves of the asclepias and afterwards gather nectar from the flowers, the fuel source that provides the energy for them to make the journey back north.
By mid March, the same Methuselah generation of butterflies that arrived here in November will begin fluttering in a bid to catch the spring time’s ascending air currents which will propel them on their journey back across the border to the United States and Canada.
Their short-life progeny, which begin life in the mountains of Mexico, will also begin the return journey back to the United States and Canada, in a staged relay covering several generations of butterflies.
The ‘great-great grandprogegy’ of this year’s Methuselah generation will return to Mexico; and although they themselves have never flown south before, they will instinctively know where to fly as it’s believed that their sense of direction is passed on to them genetically from their ancestors. Latest research also suggests that the butterflies possess an “inner clock” which enables them navigate by means of the sun’s position in the sky.
This remarkable life cycle is manifested by an insect that weighs less than a gram, but who’s ‘pollinating agent’ work plays an enormously important role in our planet’s eco system.
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