The mating season of the Monarchs
As winter thaws, millions of black and orange wings will flood the blue skies above the Mexican central highlands. February and March is the mating season of the famed Monarch butterflies, Mexico's greatest living monument, and whose iconic migration may not be long for this world.
The myth of the Monarchs
The migration of the butterflies is seemingly the stuff of legend, as the insects travel anywhere between 1,200 and 2,800 miles every year from the U.S. and Canada to central Mexico, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Part of what makes the migration such a spectacle is the fact that there are so many of them, with anywhere between 60 million and 1 billion butterflies making the journey each year, as stated by Mexico's Tourism Board. Their brilliant colors are a flood of amazement for sightseers, but the insects' tenacity is also deserving of some respect, given that no single adult butterfly that sets out on the journey ever completes the round-trip.
Apart from their diligence, they also have impeccable timing, usually arriving in Mexico around the Day of The Dead. According to Frommer's, Aztecs believed the butterflies to be the reborn spirits of fallen warriors, clad in battle colors. They become their own form of cladding to the forests of Michoacan, clumping on the trunks of trees, but billowing and bursting into the air with the gust of a strong wind. During mating season, the butterflies wake, much to the delight of travelers and locals alike who visit El Rosario, the site of the evergreens and oaks that the Monarchs call home.
A short-lived spectacle
Travelers to El Rosario may want to book reservations in the towns of Angangueo and Ocampo, both of which are easy drives to the nearby forests. The former city even hosts an annual festival of the Monarch Butterflies, which is meant to encourage the protection and preservation of the insects' habitat. Despite these efforts, however, a recent report from the WWF found that the population of Monarchs is dwindling, meaning that fewer Monarchs are making the migration.
The threat to the Monarchs is partly due to food shortage, the consequences of herbicides on U.S. crops and deforestation in Mexico, the WWF reported. Additionally, extreme weather has made it harder for Monarch eggs to hatch along the journey. This means that the migration could be in danger, and that some Monarchs may stay in Mexico year-round. Still, travelers will want to go when the butterflies are most active.