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Monarchs in Mexico - A Butterfly Pavilion Trip

Monarchs in Mexico - A Butterfly Pavilion Trip

By Norma McGraw

In late February Butterfly Pavilion sponsored an amazing trip to Mexico to visit the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which covers over 139,000 acres of rugged, forested mountains about 60 miles northwest of Mexico City. It is estimated that between 60 and 300 million monarch butterflies overwinter in the reserve. These butterflies have migrated from the Great Lakes Region in the US and Canada to overwinter from October through March in oyamel fir forests. On this trip ten butterfly enthusiasts were accompanied by Butterfly Pavilion Community Programs Manager Marissa Copan and two excellent local guides. With their expertise and knowledge, we learned about the monarch life cycle and the challenges and threats to its incredible annual migration.

Norma McGraw

Though the number of monarchs completing the journey has dropped drastically over recent years due to loss of habitat, pesticides and changing weather patterns, this year was deemed a “Cinderella Year” with a 144% increase in numbers over last year because of favorable conditions last summer. There is no guarantee that this trend will continue, but it made for some spectacular viewing during our trip!
We visited two sanctuaries within the Reserve. First was Piedra Herrada Sanctuary. We rode horseback up the mountain and then hiked to the area where the monarchs were gathered in massive clusters on the branches and trunks of the oyamel firs. Each butterfly weighs less than a gram but the combined weight of hundreds clinging to each branch causes them to bend. When the sun shone into the areas where they were clustered the monarchs caught the thermals and soared out to find food. It was nearing the end of the overwintering season, so we saw many pairs mating. Soon they would depart to lay their eggs in the Gulf Coast states and begin the multi-generational migration north.

Norma McGraw

The second sanctuary we visited was El Capulin. Again we rode horseback to a clearing where we saw a “river of monarchs” flying down from the mountainside. After riding further up the mountain, we dismounted for a hike to see even larger clusters of butterflies. Watching them fly in and out of the trees as the sun dipped in and out of the clouds was truly magical! In the quiet of the woods with so many monarchs in flight we could actually hear the beating of their wings. Being in the presence of thousands of butterflies and pondering their incredible journey was an unforgettable experience! In addition to spending time with the monarchs, our group enjoyed the beautiful little town of Valle de Bravo, one of Mexico’s “Magical Cities.” A pleasant evening stroll in the town square followed by exceptional meals and lively conversations were wonderful endings to the days there. We also spent time in Mexico City visiting historical sites, parks and museums, enjoying amazing local food (tacos pastore!) and shopping at a huge temporary market of indigenous handicrafts in the city’s Zócalo Plaza. We had a wonderful time absorbing the culture and the sunshine!

Many thanks to Marissa for organizing this trip along with Sheridan Samano from Reefs to Rockies. It was a once in a lifetime chance to see one of nature’s truly remarkable events!

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