The Miracle of the Monarch Butterfly Migration
I took a two day trip into the central highlands of Mexico to wrap myself inside the experience of seeing the millions of monarch butterflies who over-winter in this very specific geographic region. I returned altered from the experience.
Being in the presence of literally millions of these beautiful winged creatures is itself transformative, but knowing what the individuals who make up this spectacular collective endure to be together in the tops of the majestic pines they cling to elevates a piece of your soul.
The experience lifts up your heart in ways beyond the reach of both laboratory and church, out into the realms beyond – the place where these human-created dichotomies reconvene joining the measurable with the mystical. A piece of your soul seems to float on a drift of visual hope created by the fragile wings of these butterflies as they fly in spectacular waves of colorful movement throughout the forest.
When you have an understanding of the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly your appreciation for the species and what you’re witnessing is increased immeasurably. This cycle has within it unknowns not at all fully understood by science and serves as an inspiration for the mysteries of life in ways as beautiful as the creatures themselves.
All in ONE Summer
Generations Fly North in 3 Amazing Steps
The Last One Flies Thousands of Miles South
In early spring of every year from deep in the highlands of central Mexico, millions upon millions of Monarch butterflies leave the pine forests at about 10,000′ elevation and head for the southern United States. In places like Texas, southern Louisiana and Oklahoma these butterflies stop, find a mate and pass away. The eggs they leave behind mature and hatch and beautiful green, black and yellow striped caterpillars feed on milkweed, a wildflower found at the edge of fields, along highways and anywhere else native flowers thrive. When satiated, the caterpillars find a protected leaf or twig and attaching themselves from the bottom transform into a cocoon.
Within the miracle of the cocoon the caterpillar becomes the butterfly. This process alone full of mystery and mystic joy. But for the Monarch, this is just the beginning of the mystery.
The Second Wave
These first generation butterflies continue a journey destined for the far northern reaches of the Americas. They fly north. Up into Kentucky, the Carolinas, Illinois and other states in the middle belt of the U.S. They alight, find mates and these, too, die. Their caterpillars become the Second Generation who then pick up the journey north.
The Third Leg of the Migration
These butterflies soar across Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and all the other border states of Canada. They continue on as weather that summer permits deep into the southern third of Canada where they too mate and die. The third generation metamorphoses from caterpillar that feasts on milkweed exclusively to beautiful winged butterfly and begins the flight all the way back to the pine forest in Mexico’s central highlands.
Three generations make the trip from Mexico to Canada, but only one, the final generation, flies from Canada back down to Mexico. And all of this within the scope of about six months.
Be With Them
If seeing the Monarchs overwintering in their Mexican resting sanctuary is on your “bucket list” you will discover an appreciation for these insects that rises up out of the depths of your being. As the sun moves around their mountain it gains strength and filters through the forest canopy where hundreds of thousands of Monarchs are resting together, as its rays warm them they fall away in wave after wave of confetti drifts swirling on gentle breezes all throughout the forest.
Enjoy five minutes of this experience for yourself:
Be a Part of This Amazing Journey
If you on the migration path of the Monarch Butterfly all you have to do is plant milkweed to attract the adult butterflies down to mate! It’s just that easy! Their caterpillars will feast on this wildflower (which comes in hundreds of varieties) allowing them to finish their own miraculous transformation into butterflies to continue their northward journeys.
NOTE: Because Milkweed is considered a weed in so many locations it is being eradicated by the use of herbicides throughout the Monarch’s flight paths. As their caterpillars feed exclusively on this plant without it their numbers are dwindling.
Planting a more general butterfly garden is a wonderful way to nourish the Monarchs on their southward journey as well as all the other species who thrive on nectar. Better Homes & Gardens has a wonderful series of plans and lists that will help you get started here.
Resources and Info
Milkweed: Find the correct type of milkweed to plant in your area on the Bring Back the Monarchs page here..
Migration: great source of monarch facts and info, including a GoogleEarth migration map can be found at The Wild Center’s Monarch page.
General Info: More information can be found at the Monarch Butterfly Fund website.
Kids: Info approriate for school lessons can be found at: http://www.monarchjourney.com/
The Preserve in Mexico: The preserve we visited is called Santuario de la Mariposa Monarca, it’s website is here.
Tour from San Miguel de Allende: To book a tour with the folks I was lucky enough to go with based in San Miguel de Allende, Travelian whose motto is “Exceptional Tours for Small Groups”, words they live up to!
A Gem of a Hotel: Take a sneak peak at the gorgeous boutique hotel we stayed at the night before our journey on to the Butterfly Reserve. Agua Blanca. Photos from there below.