Arrival of the Monarch Butterfly
These beautiful insects make their annual journey back to the forests of Michoacan in this highly recommended trip for independent travelers
It is breathtaking to see monarch butterflies flying in the thousands and covering every inch of the forest. Between October to November every year, the monarchs make their way down from Canada and the U.S. to the pine and fir forests of Michoacan and Mexico State, covering 5,470 km in search of a warm climate to hibernate and reproduce.
Among locals, the belief exists that the butterflies are the souls of their loved ones who are visiting, as their arrival coincides with Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
Five generations reproduce each year, but only the fourth generation of butterflies migrate. In spite of this, due to their astonishing genetics, they return to the same place every winter.
However, over the last 25 years, 90 percent of their population has vanished. Because of this, the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve on the border of Michoacan and Mexico State was founded in 1980, which is today a Natural World Heritage Site.
In 2014, the butterflies covered 1.13 hectares of forest in Michoacan, representing 69 percent canopy cover, compared to only 0.67 hectares in 2013. The staggering population decline of 2013 was an all-time low. The drop was attributed to the illegal logging in the Mexican forests. As a result, conservationists made great strides in cracking down on loggers and were overjoyed when the insects returned to their wintering ground in 2014 in larger numbers.
Habitat threats to the monarch also exist in Canada and the U.S. The monarch’s main food source, the milkweed plant, is quickly disappearing because of the use of pesticide and industrial agricultural practices.
The best time to visit the reserve is in February and at the beginning of March. We recommend you bundle up because it gets very cold. Once at the reserve, it is very important to follow the guidelines: don’t touch the butterflies or take them with you, don’t litter, and don’t disturb the peace of the sanctuary.
Another recommendation is to eat at the cabins in the reserve and to buy the local handicrafts as this contributes to the local economy and the protection of the butterflies. After your visit, you can wander the picturesque streets of the Pueblos Mágicos of Tlalpujahua, El Oro, or Angangueo, which are old mining towns from the 19th century. This is a beautiful and highly recommended trip.
The arrival of the Monarch Butterfly to Mexico coincides with the Day of the Dead / Photo: wikimedia