Monarchs of Michoacan with Denver Botanic Gardens – Day 3

Guest blogger: Sarada Krishnan, Director of Horticulture at Denver Botanic Gardens

Mexican Journal: Day 3 – Sierra Chincua Monarch Sanctuary

All of us had been waiting for this day…the highlight of the trip. The Sierra Chincua Monarch Sanctuary is one of four publicly accessible sanctuaries, two of which are in the state of Mexico (El Rosario & Sierra Chincua) and two in the state of Michoacán (Cerro Pelón & La Mesa). A 45-minute drive from Tlalpujahua takes us to the Reserve entrance. The butterfly site is another 45-60 minute hike from the entrance and some opt to go on horseback while others hike through the forests. The predominant tree species in the Oyamel fir (Abies religiosa), named so because of the branching structure that looks like a cross.

Monarchs on oyamel fir

As we start toward the butterfly roosting site, along the way one gets a preview of what is to come. A few Monarch butterflies are fluttering around, nectaring on wildflowers, but as we get closer to the site, the numbers increase. But nothing prepares you for the magnificent site of the final destination. Millions of butterflies are everywhere, hanging on trees, fluttering on the ground, swirling in the air, and nectaring on the nearby bushes. The sheer numbers, the beauty and the amazing way in which nature works is astounding and nowhere on the planet do we find a more amazing migration phenomenon.

The Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) of North America is the only butterfly that migrates over 2,000 miles from Canada and United States each fall to the Transvolcanic Mountain sites in Central Mexico. This generation of butterflies lives for 6-8 months and in the spring when the weather gets warmer, they mate and migrate north to Southern United States where the milkweed plants (Asclepias spp.) on which the caterpillars feed are found. The migrating generation dies off and the new generation move further north, breeds further for about four generations, each generation of adults living only 4-6 weeks. The fall generation, 4-5 times removed from the original migrating generation, makes the arduous journey back to Mexico and the cycle repeats.

Millions and millions of monarchs overwinter in Mexico every winter.

After spending a couple of hours at the butterfly site, we head back, each of us having been touched by the wonder and spirituality of this experience. While we will always cherish this experience, our thoughts and prayers today were also with the local people of nearby villages who have been devastated by the recent floods and mudslide. These local folks depend on this ecotourism for their livelihood, which provides them incentives for forest conservation.

More monarchs roosting.
Monarchs fluttering on the ground.