Monday, February 21, 2011

The Great Migration: Mexico's monarch butterflies

I am going to say it was around 20 years ago that I first heard of the awesome migration of monarch butterflies. I didn't even know they migrated, I thought they went dormant or something! I thought it was pretty good then my feeling went to one of mortification when I realized they had located and were telegraphing there routes and ultimate destinations in Mexico.

Knowing mans penchant for destruction of life and the undeniable fact that man can not even manage himself I was saddened knowing it was only a matter of time before we decimated them too as anything dependent on man for its survival is doomed. Each year, towards the end of October, a unique and stunning natural display can be witnessed right by the border of the States of Mexico and Michoacan and that is the arrival of the Monarch Butterfly.

Traveling in colonies of more than 20 million, the gorgeous Monarchs of bright-orange colored wings with black veins and white spots on the edges, arrive in the forests and prepare to hibernate, upholstering the oyamel fir trees and the sky itself with their radiant beauty, providing locals and visitors with an exceptional experience bound to stay imprinted in the memory of every spectator. I personally wish the knowledge of their whereabouts was kept to the natives for the sake of the butterflies survival!

While many visitors arrive yearly to witness this amazing spectacle, these amazing insects remain unknown to most people. The Monarch Butterfly dates back to 250-million years ago. Most of them are born south of Canada and the north of the United States, where wild cotton and milkweed plants -of the asclepia family- grow. The Monarch Butterfly feeds on these plants which contain an alkaloid substance deadly to other species but not for the magnificent Monarch

I have to tell you absolutely milkweed is delicious. If you love Asparagus you will love milkweed cut at the same young stage of growth. If I blindfolded you and put them both in front of you, you could not tell them apart period. Not the large plants the very young plants. Google it if you want! I found an old Polish woman that was excited that I knew it was edible as she has eaten it since a child. Now back to the monarch!

The typical Monarch's life cycle lasts 4 to 5 weeks, starting as en egg, going through the larva period, morphing into a pupa or chrysalis until it reaches the adult stage when it reproduces, and finally, dying. However, when summer is over and temperatures drop drastically, a special generation of Monarch Butterflies is born; this new group will have to assume the titanic mission of traveling to Mexico, to warmer latitudes so they can hibernate, feed, mate, and then travel back home. This different kind of Monarch is known as the Methuselah generation. Unlike its ancestors who had only ephemeral lives of five weeks tops, these migratory Monarchs will have longer existences that will last up to eight months, so they can successfully carry out their objective of reaching the oyamel fir forests. "I have never heard of this"

Migratory butterflies travel approximately 74 miles per day on an amazing 3100-mile trip, the Methuselah generation finally arrives at the five different sanctuaries located in Mexico, clustering on the oyamel tree trunks and getting ready to be a part of the half of the colony that will endure the winter and predators. By mid-February when temperatures rise and days become longer, the Monarch starts its mating ritual. Once females have lain over 400 eggs each on the fine leaves of the asclepias, they begin their search for flowers to get their nectar and thus gather the necessary energy for the trip back home.

By mid-March, copious colonies of Monarch Butterflies can be seen flapping their wings as they wait for an ascending air current to propel them, and so the journey back home starts. Once back in US territories, the Methuselah generation dies and the trip continues as a relay race while short-life descendants fly up north in several generations.

Amazing as it is, those Monarchs who will travel back to the sanctuaries in Mexico next winter, have never been there before. It was their great great grandparents who undertook the courageous trip the year before. However, as orientation sense is transmitted genetically, the Methuselah generation of next year will have no problem returning to the same place where its ancestors hibernated. I read at one of the links that a half a billion start the trek to Mexico and 100 million arrive!

This is the unbelievable journey of an insect that weighs less than a gram, but whose beauty and importance as a pollination agent and as a factor of ecological equilibrium, are preponderant. Do not miss the chance to be a part of this fascinating experience when you visit Michoacan or the State of Mexico. Take a closer look to the amazing life cycle of the Monarch Butterfly, and its migration to the sanctuaries in Michoacan, Mexico

Numbers of Monarch butterflies increased this winter "2011", but conservationists say severe weather still threatens the species. I am not worried about the weather as much as I am man though the weather seems to be everyone's enemy the last few years and is getting worse.

James Joiner
Gardner, Ma


One Fly said...

A guy could live on milkweeds in some places. I never knew that.

For the longest time I thought these incests were in peril. Doesn't seem to be the case now. Good!

an average patriot said...

You'd be amazed Tom, Acorns too if you bleach out the tanic acid. You can eat almost anything. You want to laugh? Just last year I found milk weed growing in my yard and I spread the seeds. I hope to see a bunch this year. I do have asparagus too. Most people do not know it but you can not eat that either when it matures.

an average patriot said...

You know, until I saw the special on tv I had no idea they migrated. Had no idea what I was killing when I killed horn worms on my tomatoes either. Gorgeous when they grow and extremely interesting!