Every year, hundreds of millions of Monarch Butterflies from Canada and the United States journey as far as 2,500 miles to the forests of Michoacan, Mexico in what is known as the world’s largest insect migration. Countless butterflies cluster together both on the trees and on the ground, covering large areas into carpets of orange and black. It’s a breathtaking sight to behold, but as always, human greed is threatening to destroy it.
The great monarch migration is one of nature’s most fascinating mysteries. Tiny butterflies from places like Toronto, Winnipeg or Detroit embark on this epic transcontinental journey and somehow make it all the way to central Mexico. Nobody knows exactly how they do it, but some experts believe they are guided by celestial navigation and magnetic fields.
The Monarch butterflies start to arrive in Michoacan in late October to make their winter home in the trees high up in the mountains of the natural reserve. Once here, they will spend the next five months clustering together in large masses made up of thousands of tiny bodies that often look like colorful beehives. Often times, these clusters become so heavy that they cause tree branches to bend or even snap. But there’s a purpose to all these clustering – it allows the monarchs to survive in the low nighttime temperatures at these high altitudes.
The Michoacan Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary is most impressive during the months of February and March, just before the winged insects begin their long journey home. Temperatures are still chilly at night, but during the day, the sun’s warmth causes the living clusters to break apart as the butterflies begin their mating rituals. In the cool of the morning, they dry their wings, turning the entire landscape black and orange, and as the dew dries, they take to the air, the sound of millions of fluttering wings more powerful that you’d ever thought possible. Then, as the sun begin to set, the monarchs take to the ground, covering virtually every available surface.
Mexico’s Butterfly Forest is a sanctuary protected by law, and one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions, but that hasn’t stopped people from slowly but steadily destroying it in the name of greed.