Monarch Butterflies Head South for the Winter
December 13, 2006 (PRLEAP.COM) Travel NewsEach year, some 250 million monarch butterflies arrive to the luscious volcanic highlands of central Mexico. Guided to the area by an inexplicable internal clock known scientifically as circadian, the monarch butterflies travel up to 3,000 miles to the state of Michoacan, which becomes the butterflies’ winter getaway. Nature-goers can visit the butterflies anytime between November and March, although the best time to see them is in February and early March, right before they head north again.
Originally from southern Canada and the northern United States, the orange and black monarchs hibernate during winter and mate in spring before returning back north. Each year from late October to early November, the delicate creatures flee the north’s freezing temperatures and embark on a month-long trip south, flying some 70 miles per day to reach the Oyamel mountaintop fir forests of the Mexican state of Michoacan. Those fortunate enough to live along the monarchs’ route south are frequently exposed to the site of large groups of butterflies flying overhead on route to their winter sanctuary.
Once reaching the Oyamel forests, the monarchs cluster together by the thousands in pine trees, weighing down branches with their sheer mass and making the forests glow the like the bright orange of their wings. These butterflies spend the entire winter in Michoacan, finally mating in the spring and then returning north, laying eggs along the way.
The beautiful butterflies leave Mexico in late February and early March in a mass migration and the monarchs should reach the central United States by mid-April. By that time, the females will have laid their eggs for 1,000 miles as they make their one-time trip. They return home exhausted and with tattered wings after the 3,000 mile trip. A typical butterfly will make just one round trip during its lifetime. Witnessing this incredible migration is reason enough to follow the Monarchs down to Mexico.
In the easternmost part of Michoacan is an immense monarch butterfly reserve spanning nearly 100 square-miles. In 1986, the Mexican government declared the region a special biosphere reserve where thousands of butterflies cluster together in the early morning and nights, covering whole trees and branches.
Several of the monarch butterfly sanctuaries are open to the public, including Sierra Chincua and El Campanario. Sierra Chincua is about a 30-minute drive north of Angangueo, once an important mining town. El Campanario, also known as El Rosario sanctuary is much more frequently visited. It lies above the small village of El Rosario, almost an hour’s drive up some rough terrain from the village of Ocampo. Common departure points to the sanctuaries are Ocampo, Zitacuaro and Morelia.
Spending a night in Angangueo is ideal because from there visitors can secure transport to the reserve early in the morning, when the butterflies are still in the trees. A comfortable hotel is the Albergue Don Bruno (tel. 011-52-715-156-0026). Maruata (tel. 011-52-443-324-2120) runs 10-hour tours to the sanctuary including transportation, food and bilingual guide for US$60. For those spending the weekend, the 62-room Villa Monarca Inn (tel. 011-52-715-153-5362), located in the outskirts of Zitacuaro, is an ideal place to go.
Angangueo, Zitacuaro and the nearby towns of Maravatio and Ocampo hold a monarch Butterfly Festival each February, featuring traditional dance, music and craft markets, in celebration of their annual winter visitors.
Local tourist areas include the beautiful colonial town of Morelia, Michoacan’s capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, giving travelers yet another reason to visit. Other popular tourist stops, including Lake Patzcuaro, the quaint town of Patzcuaro, Janitzio Island and the Tarascan Indian ruins of Tzintzuntzan, are also nearby.
The beautiful butterflies leave Mexico in late February and early March in a mass migration and the monarchs should reach the central United States by mid-April. By that time, the females will have laid their eggs for 1,000 miles as they make their one-time trip. They return home exhausted and with tattered wings after the 3,000 mile trip. A typical butterfly will make just one round trip during its lifetime.
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