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Mexico: Monarch Butterfly Migration in the Americas

Between Mexico, Northern United States, and Canada there is a very unique phenomenon that reminds many of how miraculous nature can be. This astonishing feat is made by the monarch butterflies, which are insects that span the life of three to four generations to get from one country to another.

Mariposa Monarca picture by flickr user Gustavo (lu7frb)

Mariposa Monarca picture by flickr user Gustavo (lu7frb) and used under a Creative Commons license.

In the blog Destinos Inolvidables [es] (Unforgettable Destinations), monarch butterflies are described as:

La mariposa monarca, además de su gran belleza, se caracteriza por su resistencia y longevidad, pues mientras otras especies de mariposas tienen un ciclo vital de 24 días, la monarca llega a vivir hasta nueve meses, es decir 12 veces más.

The monarch butterfly, apart of its beauty, is characterized by its resistance and its longevity, while some other butterfly species have a life cycle of 24 days, a monarch butterfly can live up to 9 months, meaning 12 times longer.

Every year at the end of October, millions of monarch butterflies arrive to forests in Michoacan and the State of México in Mexico after flying approximately 4,000 km from the Northern US and Canada. Inhabitants of the region and tourists come to witness the large number of butterflies in the forest, in places known as sanctuaries. At the blog Tips de Viajero [es] (Traveler's Tips), the experience of visiting a sanctuary is explained:

Un magnífico paseo, y bastante cansado, pero llegar a la cumbre y ser testigo del vuelo de millones de mariposas a tu alrededor, es indescriptible. Los niños se maravillan y los adultos recobramos la capacidad de asombro: no cabe duda que la naturaleza es sabia.

A magnificent trip, very tiring, but when you get to the top and you witness millions of butterflies flying around you, it is indescribable. Kids get amazed and the adults regain our capacity for astonishment: nature is wise, there is no doubt about it.

Video by DavidDJC84:

This event goes back to ancient times, as there exist admiration testimonies. Even in Mexican archaeological sites, sculptures and paintings of Monarch butterflies have been found. Sadly, because of deforestation and brutal weather changes, butterflies are finding it harder to survive. According to El Universal newspaper, in the beginning of February, 30% of the monarch butterflies in one of the most important national sanctuaries, Santuario Piedra Herrada [es], died from a strong cold front in the region.

However, this migration phenomenon continues strong today. One of the most typical festivities in Mexico is El día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), it is when Mexicans commemorate the memory of their beloved ones that have passed on. An indigenous culture, the Mazahua people, believe that the arrival of monarch butterflies every October represent the souls of the dead, as they also believe they bring a message between the gods and the Earth.

In the blog Rojo Mariposa [es] (Red Butterfly) this incident is mentioned:

Además de ser considerada como un ser mágico en mi país, por llegar en las fechas en que según la tradición de Día de Muertos, llegan también las almas de los santos difuntos.
¿Ahora entienden por qué me fascina tanto esta maravilla?

Apart of being considered a magical being in my country, because it arrives around the dates of the traditional Day of the Dead, the souls of deceased people also arrive. Now you understand why I am fascinated by this wonder?


  • Thanks for writing this. When I was a kid we used to visit my uncle’s place in Monterey, California during the Monarch migration. They would always return to the same three trees, even though their life span was too short for them to have made the trip before. I still don’t understand it, and it was about the coolest thing ever.

  • Helen Nordo

    I think humans have lost their interest in the true things of beauty, God’s creation, the butterfly. I can remember, as a child seeing them, even in the city, now that I live in the country, I have seen them decreasing year after year. On my former residence, I had 2 butterfly bushes & they were crammed with monarchs, year after year I saw less. Now at my home in the country, I have more than 15 butterfly bushes, all of them flowering, & only a pair of yellow winged Monarchs, (not the orange but the yellow with the same markings). This is so sad, I fear that, along with bees this species will soon be on its way out. I try to keep water pans available, since they do need to drink but, with the hot summer sun, they must be replenished. Many people simply do not have the time to tend to gardens, or allow some of their land to go “natural”. Years ago, we had so little & yet we enjoyed life so much I right? In this technological age, the young people seem to gravitate towards..things!! Children are allowed to sit for hours on end playing with a computer, shooting down people or pretending to play an instrument. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but when we lose touch with nature, we are playing a dangerous game. Perhaps it is the times where two people have to work to provide for their families but, instead of making their lives better, they buy bigger houses, bigger tv’s & have larger mortgages. They just don’t have the time to take an interest in nature & perhaps, that is why other countries are allowed to spray with dangerous chemicals because there’s nobody taking a sincere interest. Families would take their children for a walk in the woods & it was a magical time for children growing many parents teach their children how to beat the system & get something for nothing. If a kid likes nature, he is teased or called a sissy, how sad! When all of God’s creatures are gone, this mechanical world we live in, full of drugs & playthings will soon turn into a “dead zone”. The final insult was the disaster in the Gulf, there are many people to blame & we, the little guys, are entire way of life is being wiped out, so why should anyone worry about a “butterfly” because when nature fails, we will all fail.. We do not use chemicals on our property & we have an orchard..the bees will succumb to chemicals as well as all other helpful insects. I came from a time when childrens’ books brought pure delight to a child, the things that made children happy then has done a complete reversal. I am sorry that there are so few of us left that can still help mother nature along..when I die, somebody will buy my place & cut down all of the lovely trees & plants that nature needs to succeed, there will be a huge green lawn with outdoor entertainment, swimming pool, with chemicals & the sounds of nature will gradually disappear. I am glad that I have lived at a time when, although we were poor, we were truly in tune with nature, watching caterpillars, listening to the cicadas, waking up to the sounds of nature, even in the city. There are still some conservationists who may be able to turn things around but, I pray it is not too late for the most beautiful of nature..the Monarch Butterfly! God Bless all of you that love & protect nature…Helen Nordo

  • Helen Nordo

    I have posted a comment but evidently it has been lost in cyberspace. In case it does not appear, I must mention that, in spite of the fact that we have over a dozen butterfly plants, I only saw 2 monarchs so far, I leave water out for them and hope that they will survive; however, every year I see less & less, this is a bad sign for mankind. The chemicals that are being used everywhere are destroying the natural wildlife. I’d rather have a few weeds with butterflies around then looking at a dull green lawn. Stop the chemicals & spare the wildlife. God Bless all you nature lovers. Helen Nordo

  • Helen
    Thank you very much for your comments. I have seen the same, less and less butterflies come to Mexico every year. We must raise awareness and prevent illegal actions cause natural imbalances.

  • Helen Nordo

    What a delightful video, that must be heaven & a haven for those lovely delicate creatures. God has provided us with so much beauty, why have we fallen so far away from what is pure & natural. After my original posting in July of this year, I continued to see more monarchs, I was lucky to have planted several rows of colorful zinnias in two separate garden areas, when I looked out my window I was please to see six or seven monarchs flying from my butterfly bush (that suffered badly this winter) to the rows of zinnias. In the spring I will replant them from seeds I collect every year, the more colorful the flowers, the more helpful insects appear but I did see many dark blue varieties of butterflies. While I was pulling weeds, the darling monarchs flew around me and in front of me and gave me so much pleasure, almost as if they were saying “Thank You for welcoming us”..and thank you for your wonderful site.

  • […] Hace dos años escribí un articulo sobre este fenómeno para Global Voices. Recuerdo que recibí muchos comentarios. La gente intentó plasmar su admiración al ver el jugueteo de las mariposas. Yo lo imaginaba, sin embargo, ahora que lo he presenciado puedo asegurar que los videos no logran replicar la majestuosidad de este evento y sin embargo, les dejo el mio, mismo que intenta sumergirlos a este místico mundo, por lo menos por unos segundos: […]

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