Archive for the ‘Central Mexico’ Category

posted by Donna-Lee on Nov 14

Natural Wonders in Mexico: Beautiful Butterflies

By Debbi Florence┬áA thick cloud of orange and black Monarch butterflies beat their wings in the scented tropical air. Debbi Florence, our Mexico Correspondent shares the wonders of her amazing experience. – V.B. My muscles begin to ache as I continue down the evergreen -scented A monarch alights upon a flower on the dusty trail through the butterfly sanctuary. Copyright Debbi Florence, 1999trail. A hiker ahead of me stops short and looks up. My gaze follows. The blue sky is suddenly darkened by the hundreds and hundreds of monarchs taking flight above us. A burst of orange and black wings flutter all around me and I am breathless in awe.Sleepy Drive to Sleepy Angangueo It is still dark when my husband, Bob, and I pick up our friends, Tom, Susan, and their 13-year-old son Gary. They stumble sleepily into our Pathfinder and we all mumble our good mornings. During our drive to the butterfly sanctuary above the town of Angangueo, dark skies give way to the pinks and oranges of dawn, and soon the sun is bright with the beginning of a new day. As we travel west from Mexico City, city buildings fade to green mountains. Cacti, crumbling stone walls, and fields fill our vision as we drive through the countryside. Three-and-a-half hours later, we spot the signs leading us to the town of Angangueo and the monarch sanctuary.A church steeple rises above the town of Angangueo. Copyright Debbi Florence, 1999A narrow street leading right up the middle of Angangueo is bordered by tiny shops and restaurants, all adorned with monarch symbols. We have no idea where we are headed, but heed the advice we’ve been given time and time again since moving to Mexico: “Follow the cars.” A single lane of bumper-to-bumper traffic winds up the street. People in white shirts and wide-brimmed hats approach us, offering parking spaces and a ride to the sanctuary. Tourists sit on benches in the back of a large truck parked on the street. We can hire a truck to take us to the sanctuary, but Bob, who likes to be in control, decides that we will make the drive ourselves. We all concur as we eye the rickety trucks. Finally, we leave Angangueo behind and head up the mountain road through tall evergreens. We cram into a dirt parking lot, already filled at noon.

Monarch Biology 101

Biologists claim to have discovered the mysterious wintering grounds of the monarchs in the 1970s, though the locals who live high in the mountains of Central Mexico have known about the butterflies for a long time. Each year, between the months of November and March, thousands upon thousands of monarchs cluster in the cool oyamel fir forests to wait out the harsh winter climate of the North. When days become shorter and temperatures drop, the monarchs east of the Rockies fly south to Mexico. (Monarchs west of the Rockies migrate to the California coast.) The monarch is the only butterfly to migrate such a long distance. They do not seek out the warmer climates of the shore, but instead spend the winter in the forests at 10,000 feet. Oyamel firs stand tall in the Transvolcanic Belt in Central Mexico, part of Mexico's Sierra Madre mountains. Copyright Debbi Florence, 1999Here it is cool enough for them to fall into a state of torpor (not a true hibernation because they awake and forage for water and nectar when temperatures are warm enough), but not so cold they will die. The trees protect them against wind and precipitation, and the clouds and fog provide moisture to prevent death from desiccation. What is even more amazing than the distance they travel, is that these are not the same butterflies who wintered here the year before. They are, in fact, the great-great grandchildren of the monarchs who arrived last winter. When the weather warms up in March, monarchs in Mexico take flight for their homes throughout the United States and southern Canada. The monarchs mate, then each female lays hundreds of eggs on milkweed. Butterflies are “host-plant” specific: each species lays eggs on only one particular type of plant. Eggs hatch into caterpillars that feed upon the milkweed, then metamorphose into adult monarchs and the cycle continues. With a life span of three to five weeks, summer adult monarchs reproduce then die.

Makeshift cafes built of wood and corrugated tin line the trail to the entrance of the monarch sanctuary. We lunch on quesadillas and tacos as we are sure we will need the energy on the hike through the forest. Copyright Gary Krier, 1999Wintering monarchs, have significantly longer life spans of about eight months. By the time late fall arrives and it is time to migrate to Mexico, the monarchs have gone through several generations. Some scientists believe these incredible Lepidoptera have a magnetic crystal located within their bodies that helps them migrate back to the same spot every winter.

Source: Victoria Brooks’ Greatest Escapes Travel Webzine: Debbi Florence is a California native currently residing in Mexico City with her husband, Bob. She holds a BS in Zoology and a minor in English from the University of California, Davis. Debbi has been a raptor rehabilitator, outdoor educator, fifth grade teacher, and the Associate Curator of Education for the Detroit Zoo. She loves being a mom, writing and reading, the great outdoors, and all creatures great and small (well, maybe not creepy-crawly-biting-type creatures). Her current goals include becoming fluent in Spanish and experiencing the diversity of Mexico!

[tags]mexico’s natural wonders, mexico, butterflies, biology,

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