Saturday, December 23, 2006

Mariposa Migration

Mariposa means butterfly in Spanish. Today we traveled about seventy miles into mountains east of Morelia in order to climb to the remote spot where most of the Monarch butterflies from North America spend the winter. We parked in an area of rustic but beautiful high altitude farms. Then, with a rag tag crowd of other visitors, mostly from Mexico, we huffed and puffed up another thousand feet or so through white pine forest into the firs favored by the Monarchs, topping out at about 10,500 feet. Suddenly, we began to see a few butterfies, on the ground slumbering or climbing on our clothes or faces. This young Mexican boy seemed to draw the butterflies.
But the butterflies on the wing are only a tiny percent of the Monarchs overwintering in this small mountain zone. We could look into the fir forests and see branches of trees weighed down by thousands of butterflies clustered together. This clustering in the winter allows the monarchs to sustain a state of semi-dormancy until it is time to return north in the spring. This curious quirk of nature was only described to the world in 1976, in a memorable article in National Geographic. Naturally, the locals had known about the butterflies forever.
With binoculars we could see the incredibly intricate and varied pattern made by thousands and thousands of wings in such a small space. We couldn't get close enough to photograph this ourselves, nor could we understand the complexity of the Monarch's migration pattern without help. This final photo comes from Monarch Watch, an excellent web site where you can read more about this quirk of nature.

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