The life of the monarch butterfly is a fascinating tale of survival. Every year, millions of butterflies migrate south to their winter grounds in the highlands of Estado de Mexico and Michoacán from Canada and the United States. They arrive during the fall and stay four months in the mountains of central Mexico.
In the state of Michoacán, the Purépecha people ring the church bells at the beginning of every November to signal the arrival of millions of butterflies. They believe the monarch butterfly is the soul of a decease person coming back to visit. The arrival of the monarch butterfly coincides with the Day of the Dead celebrations and the end of the harvest season. Therefore, the butterflies are a good sign in the Purépecha traditions.
The monarch butterfly life cycle is a scientific wonder. The butterflies that start the trip south during the late summer is known as the “Methuselah generation”. An adult butterfly only lives four to five weeks. However, the Methuselah generation lives up to nine months. Those are the generation that flies up to 3,000 miles to reach their winter grounds. And, after mating in February, the females start the trip back north during the last days of winter.
Monarch butterfly – A dance of color
Temperatures at the top of the mountains where the monarch butterfly roosts can be very low. Most of the time the monarchs only hang from trees during their stay in Mexico. However, when temperatures rise and the sun hits the top of the trees, millions of butterflies take flight to fill the air with their beautiful black and orange colors.
During the mating season, that only lasts 72 hours, the sky changes from blue to orange as the frenzy to create the new generation of monarch butterflies is at its peak. After the turmoil and passion are over, the males drop dead to the ground and the females are ready to head back north.
On their way back north, 3 generations will be born during the spring and summer months. At the end of the summer, the 4th generation, the “Methuselahs”, will be born and they will know how to reach their winter grounds in Mexico. They will feed on nectar to fuel their bodies for the long trip and for their 4-month hibernation period.
Visiting the monarch butterfly sanctuaries in Mexico is an unforgettable experience. After a one-hour hike to the top of the mountains, the tree branches bending under the weight of millions of butterflies is a breathtaking sight. If you’re lucky, the temperature will be just right and the sun will come out to wake up this magnificent insect from its lethargic state. When millions of butterflies take flight at the same time and fill the air with their bright colors, one can only feel insignificant at the wisdom of life.
If you’re ever in Mexico during the winter months, this is a spectacle you can’t miss. Take a tour from Mexico City or surrounding cities to witness one of nature’s grandest feats.