Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Flight to Michoacán

Did you know that millions are flying to the Mexican state of Michoacán right now, and they won't need to show a passport or have to be screened by airport security? Most of them are probably there already. " Every fall, huge numbers of Monarch Butterflies gather in southern Canada to migrate. Until recently, it was not known where these butterflies went. We now know that some Monarch butterflies travel over 3,100 kilometers, just to overwinter in places like Michoacán. These long flights pose great danger for the butterflies, especially from predators. But these little insects have something to teach us about resilience.
In 2002 heavy rains and extreme cold in Michoacan and the State of Mexico killed almost 80 percent of the Monarch butterflies there. Perhaps as many as 500 million butterflies died that year. But in 2002 the butterflies returned--in a big way. Between 200 million and 500 million Monarchs spent the winter in Michoacán before returning back to Canada and the eastern part of the U.S.

Those of us who are "in the know" and have had the opportunity to visit one of the Monarch sanctuaries experience something we can never forget. I had first learned about the Monarch's yearly journey to Mexico when I was teaching a lesson about them to my 4th grade students. The Monarch is state insect of California and we were studying the life cycle of the butterfly. A few years later I was living in Morelia, and of course was excited about seeing this place for my self. In March of 2004, after journeying to the Eastern Sierra (about 2 hours from Morelia) while taking in amazing views, and then traveling up a rocky hillside on horseback, my husband, Doug, our daughter, Jenny, and my two brave parents (who were in their 80's!) were treated to the thrilling sight of thousands of butterflies covering the trees and filling the air around us. (The photo below was taken on a previous trip in September to the hot springs called Los Azufres when the mirasoles are in full bloom.)I hadn't thought about that adventure for a while until I recently came across two environmental educators who organize tours for teachers and naturalists to Monarch Butterfly sanctuaries every February. It looks like a great trip-- I suggest you check them out and join them if you're looking for an adventure. Though February can be warm on the beaches of Mexico, it definitely isn't in the mountain area where the weather is always on the cool side. But if you usually experience blizzards that time of the year where you live, then I suggest you leave your snow parkas home and head for the hills of Michoacán. Just don't plan on wearing your bikini.

You can find out more about the Monarchs, see beautiful photos and learn more about the tours at
UPDATE, Feb. 2010 reports on trip to Monarch sanctuaries: