Mariposas

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. Tthe two black dots on the smaller wings shows that the one on the left is a male.

The Monarch butterfly. Tthe two black dots on the smaller wings shows that the one on the left is a male.

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.

The Sierra Madres

The Sierra Madres

Beautiful, curvy road. The butterfly reserve is at 3,000 m.

Beautiful, curvy road. The butterfly reserve is at 3,000 m.

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.

The Monarch cluster in bunches

The Monarch cluster in bunches

Close up of one of many bunches

Close up of one of many bunches

What looks like orange moss is butterfly stacked next to butterfly

What looks like orange moss is butterfly stacked next to butterfly

A Monarch bar scene...

A Monarch bar scene…

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.

Parked next to Veronica's and Alejandro's restaurant

Parked next to Veronica’s and Alejandro’s restaurant

Veronica's restaurant. Note the wood fired stove on the right

Veronica’s restaurant. Note the wood fired stove on the right

The stove is a cut-in-half oil barrel with a welded on flat surface. The fire is inside the barrel - the flat surface is where all the cooking is done.

The stove is a cut-in-half oil barrel with a welded on flat surface. The fire is inside the barrel – the flat surface is where all the cooking is done. Chicken milanesa is what’s for dinner.

Advertisements

8 thoughts on “Mariposas

  1. I’ve seen pictures of these butterflies for years but you gave nice detail in the description. So glad you got to see them.

  2. Very heartening to see your photos–I’d read that the butterflies were facing extinction because the trees were being harvested. Maybe that’s stopped??

    • Not sure if it’s the trees, but there is a serious issue facing the Monarchs at their stop in the US: the milkweed plant that they lay their eggs on, and that the caterpillars subsequently eat, is rapidly disappearing.

  3. And of course there is Steinbeck’s take on the Monarchs in Pacific Grove:

    The butterflies know exactly where they are going. In their millions they land on several pine trees–always the same trees. There they suck the thick resinous juice which oozes from the twigs, and they get cockeyed. The first comers suck their fill and then fall drunken to the ground, where they lie like a golden carpet, waving their inebriate legs in the air and giving off butterfly shouts of celebration, while their places on the twigs are taken by new, thirsty millions. After about a week of binge the butterflies sober up and fly away, but not in clouds: they face their Monday morning singly or in pairs.

    I’ve always enjoyed the imagery in this.

  4. Hey guys – just read a number of your posts and really enjoyed hearing about it all. Just wanted to say hello and that I am thinking about you and thanks for doing this. Makes it seem like you are not so far away…xoxoox

  5. So happy to see that you have enjoyed Patzcuaro as much as we do. It’s one of our favorite pueblos. Also, the monarchs….aren’t they just incredible? Impossible to describe, really.

    We have passed your info along to Angela and Gordon at Truck Camper Magazine. They are pretty busy right now, but you’ll hear from them one of these days!

    Please let us know when you’re headed to Pelanque. We’re anxious to hear about our friend, Peter.

    Gracias, amigos y salud! Paula and Jerry, Nova Scotia & Maruata 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s