All over the world, nature makes awesome stuff happen. Think of cherry blossom season in Kyoto, or the moment you spot a pod of humpback whales off the coast of Argentina. Experiences like these are especially moving because they’re fleeting and we’re there at just the right time to see them. This is how it feels to walk among millions of monarch butterflies in the natural reserves west of Mexico City. Normally delicate and solitary, their collective presence around you and in the trees above you here is both startling and unbelievably beautiful.
See how it feels to walk beneath millions of monarch butterflies in the trees above you.
Every year, upwards of hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies make the migratory journey from as far north as Canada’s east coast. They arrive in places like the El Rosario Butterfly Reserve, just west of Mexico City, in late October. We don’t know exactly how these tiny things make such intense and long journeys to the same locations year after year, especially considering no butterfly ever makes the journey twice. It’s a form of genetic memory that is still somewhat of a mystery to us. Thanks to tagging practices, we do know that butterflies can travel hundreds of miles in a matter of days. (Small paper tags roughly the diameter of a pencil are adhered to the undersides of their wings to track their flight patterns.)
“Bette Midler would likely call them the clings beneath their wings.”
“Thanks for that, Dad.”
Small paper tags track their flight patterns. Photo courtesy Katja S.
The butterflies remain in Mexico for a few months, mating in February and March just before the journey northward. When they arrive back in the US or Canada, they lay their eggs on the undersides of milkweed leaves. The eggs hatch into caterpillars within five to eight days. Then, through a series of five larval states, only a very small percentage (some years as low as 1%) actually become butterflies. They then feed throughout the summer months to ready themselves for the long journey southward, beginning the cycle again.
Butterfly conservation efforts across all of North America are quite serious. From ensuring widespread healthy milkweed to tackling deforestation in Mexico, numerous initiatives are in place to ensure future generations continue healthily.
Monarch’s hibernating in the warm weather of Mexico.
There’s something dreamy to be said here about the butterfly effect – the scientific idea that the wings of a butterfly can create miniscule changes in air currents and ultimately affect the creation or path of a tornado or entire weather systems thousands of miles away. It seems like pure fantasy when just one butterfly is involved. When (quite literally) millions are in the picture, you see a world where maybe – just maybe – this could almost be possible.
Like being present when a volcano erupts, the chance to witness the gathering of millions of monarch butterflies is special in the truest sense of the word. Our own Mexico Monarch Butterfly Trail tour is an incredible journey that provides travellers with the opportunity to witness mating season at the El Rosario Butterfly Reserve. It’s an unusual and beautiful experience that you will remember (and talk about) for the rest of your life.