If you haven’t seen the episode in the BBC series Life that shows the Monarch Butterflies, stop reading. Do not pass Go. Rent the episode, watch it, then come back and read the rest of this blog post. (For those of you who are too lazy, here’s a link to a brief video…)
The Monarch butterfly has the craziest life-cycle migration scheme of any butterfly, perhaps of any animal. Here’s roughly what the life cycle looks like for the Monarchs that winter in Mexico:
1 Around the spring, vernal, equinox, the Monarchs leave their winter home on Mexico and fly to South and North Carolina, where the females lay their eggs. And then die.
2 The new generation flies to their summer homes in Canada, where the females lay their eggs. And then die.
3 Another generation of females lay their eggs in Canada. And then die.
4 The new generation, the 3rd, at times the 4th one, leaves Canada around October and fly to a very small area in the Sierra Madres of Mexico. Here, millions, perhaps billions of butterflies hang out together in colonies over the winter. Then when spring comes, and the weather warms up, they mate, and the cycle starts over again.
Just amazing: a migration that lasts over 3 to 4 generations, no one butterfly will make the whole journey, and with widely varying lifespans. The generation that is born in Canada, migrates to Mexico, mates, and then migrates to the Carolinas has to do most of the flying work, but on the other hand, this generation gets to live for 8 to 9 months. The other generations have lifespans in the 1 to 2 month range.
Our pictures of the Monarchs do not come close to conveying what it’s like to see millions of butterflies huddled together, and then, as the sun heats them up, and the wind picks up every so slightly, see hundreds of thousands of butterflies milling around in the air. As Karen said: “This may be the most magical thing we have seen on our travels!” Click on the picture below to blow them up, it’s worth it.
We took some video as well, but are having difficulty uploading it to the blog. Stay tuned…
Our “camp site” for the night was right outside the entrance to the Butterfly Reserve (a World Heritage Site), parked in front of Veronica and Alejandro’s palapa style restaurant. The site was a dirt parking lot for the locals who work at the restaurants outside the reserve. In exchange for eating dinner at her restaurant, Veronica had no problem with us parking in front.
We parked there together with a Canadian couple we had met in Patzcuaro – nice to have company for the evening, and we hiked in to see the butterflies together the next day.