Watch Millions Of Monarch Butterflies Flying Through Mexico

At first, the air on the winding, one-lane mountain road is completely clear. But as we round a curve, the sky is suddenly teeming with butterflies, a storm of bright orange-and-black wings. It’s so utterly breathtaking, and unexpected, that my husband pulls over the car so we can attempt to register the magic of that particular moment. (And to take a video, of course.)

All this, and we hadn’t even made it to Piedra Herrada, part of Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.

Seeing the monarch butterfly migration has been on my bucket list ever since reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior (in which they unexpectedly land in a small Appalachian town — a fictional twist on their usual migratory path). But reading about it in a novel did not at all prepare me for the sight of more than a hundred million butterflies drifting across the sky like dark clouds. Once in the reserve, more than 10,000 feet up, I didn’t know where to look first: the sky, the trees, the flowering bushes, the forest floor — everywhere, really — was alive with this kaleidoscopic natural phenomenon.

This extraordinary migration takes place every year, and witnessing the event in person is the perfect excuse to plan a trip to Mexico — if not this winter, than definitely next.

Monarch butterflies migrate, Mexico

Brooke Porter Katz

What It Is

A lot is still unknown about how the butterflies are able to find their way to Mexico every fall — or how they make the return trip north to Canada and the northeastern United States come spring. The mystery stems from the fact that this migratory path takes multiple generations to complete. In other words, the butterflies that winter in Mexico have never been here before (and will never return).

One thing we do know is that when the weather starts warming up in the U.S., they’ll head back north from Mexico, stopping in southern states like Texas and Louisiana to mate and lay eggs, which quickly become caterpillars that transform into butterflies that continue flying north bit by bit, mating (and dying) along the way. (In the summer, the average life span of a monarch butterfly is about two to six weeks). Eventually — multiple generations later — a population will be born in Canada and the northeastern U.S., one that miraculously has the ability to complete the entire 2,500-plus-mile journey south of the border, survive the winter, and fly partway back north in the spring, where it all begins anew.

Another thing that’s become clear in recent years is that populations are dwindling. In fact, over the last two decades, more than a billion (yes, billion) butterflies have disappeared. One reason is the decline of milkweed, mostly a result of herbicides. Milkweed is the only plant on which monarch butterflies can lay their eggs — and the only food caterpillars feed on before turning into butterflies.

When To Go

The butterflies typically arrive in Mexico in November and stay until March, taking shelter amid the oyamel fir trees in a small area about two hours west of Mexico City. (It’s doable as a day trip if you’re visiting the capital.)

The best time to see them is January and February, when the population is at its highest. When arranging a visit to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve — which has a few different entry points (more on that below) — plan to arrive at the roosting areas during the warmest part of the day, between 12:30 and 2:30 p.m.

That’s because the butterflies enjoy basking in the sunshine, taking to the sky and fluttering around the surrounding flowers and bushes. (You’ll also see them hanging from the trees in shadier areas of the forest, clumped together in enormous swarms that weigh down the branches.) If you can, go on a weekday, when you may even have the reserve all to yourself.

 

Source: travel and leisure

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