|Mexico is the country in the Americas with the most UNESCO World Heritage sites. Although the great majority of its sites are cultural- or history-related, it counts 5 natural sites. One of them is the Monarch butterfly biosphere reserve, which is a delimited territory along the border between the states of Michoacan and Mexico (yes, there's a state called 'Mexico' in the country 'Mexico'). On this site every year hundreds of millions butterflies meet every year during the only butterfly migration phenomenon known to exist.|
It's a Canadian from Scarborough,
Ontario, who finally discovered the location where the Monarch
butterflies spent winter, after a life-long research. Born in 1911,
Fred Urquhart was fascinated by the butterflies, and especially the
Monarch species. He noticed that he couldn't find dead Monarchs in
autumn as he found samples of other butterflies. After some
research, he concluded they must be migrating South for the winter.
But no butterfly was known to do that. He started a program to track
the butterflies by marking their wings and recruiting thousands of
volunteers across Canada and the USA.
Each year, he found traces of the
butterflies going more South than the year before. After a while, he
guessed they were going to Mexico... but no idea where exactly. It's
only in 1975, after 38 years of research, that he was able to
pinpoint the exact location where the Monarch butterfly was
migrating. There's a remarkable IMAX movie film about Fred and his
wife work, the movie is called “Flight of the Butterflies”. To
date, it's the only known migration of butterflies.
Normal lifespan of a Monarch butterfly
is 3 to 4 weeks. But in late summer a special generation of super
Monarch is born, the Methuselah generation. This butterfly has a
lifespan of 9 months! That's the one who flies South. Since Monarch
butterflies are found up to Quebec City (and a bit further, but let's
take this as a reference point), they migrate over 4 000 km! These
little butterflies that weigh less than a gram can travel more than
150 km in a single day using the air currents!
We are not sure yet how the butterflies
find the location year after year, since the ones arriving in Mexico
in November are the great-grand-sons of the ones who left in March.
Scientists believe it's a genetic imprint, while local natives
believe it's more due to the pollen stuck on their wings which would
be magnetic that would act as a compass.
There are 13 areas (colonies)
identified where the Monarch gather each year. Four of them are open
to the public, the others being too fragile and too risky to disturb
the Monarchs. Two of them are in the state of Michoacan, including
the one of Sierra Chincua where I've been, the two others are in the
state of Mexico.
In 2006, the area was listed by the
UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve, that's a list of sites that are judged
important for the natural bio-diversity of the planet. In 2008, the
three countries on the path of the Monarch (Canada, USA and Mexico)
signed an agreement to protect all areas vital to the Monarch
migration. That same year, the UNESCO listed the site on his World
I spent about an hour in the company of
the butterflies. I had planed my Mexican journey to be there to meet
these butterflies. It was planned to be a highlight of my passage
through Mexico and it was! I really enjoyed being surrounded by
those little butterflies and just appreciate the moment of witnessing
one of the great nature miracles.