Our trip to Mexico last month found us high up in the mountains with our sights set on seeing massive amounts of Monarch butterflies. We stayed at the hacienda of a friend who would take us on this nature adventure. Jose Alverez is passionately involved in educating locals and gringos about the wonders of these tiny, beautiful insects that, every year, make the perilous 2,000-mile journey from Canada to a 60-square mile area in the Mexican mountains to nest and feed until it’s time for them to head north. The story of the Monarch is truly amazing…
The migration of this tiny creature with wingspans of only 4 inches, weighing in at 1/5 of an ounce is not only remarkable, it’s baffled the scientists who study them. After wintering in Mexico, they head north to the Gulf states where they mate and die. The second generation goes to the northern US where they mate and die, after only living for a month. The third generation goes to Canada where they mate and die, again, only living a month. The fourth generation is the one that makes the epic migration from Canada to Mexico (over 2,000 miles) having never before made this journey.. and always end up in the exact same spot in the Mexican mountains.
These ephemeral beauties can’t fly in bad weather, even a little rain can wipe them out if they don’t find a suitable place to wait out the storm. So this trans-continental journey isn’t non-stop, in fact the Monarchs have to make several layovers causing their trip to take two months. Given the wind, rain and cold weather restraints, the Monarch must fly an average of 50 miles on the decent travel days.
Once they get to Mexico they spend their days eating and regrouping. They nest in the largest trees they can find in the same forests they have gone to for centuries located in elevations of 10k and higher. The bigger the tree, the more heat is generated as they clump together with millions of their own kind in a struggle to keep warm. As if that journey from Canada wasn’t enough to earn them a few months to just hang out, instead the Monarchs are finding severely stripped forests with fewer trees to chose from. Locals are logging in this area (even though it’s illegal) to make ends meet for their families. And this is where Jose has entered this uphill battle to get loggers to plant trees at lower elevations so they will not have to denude the butterflies’ habitat and save the most phenonmenal migration known to man.