A UNA MARIPOSA MONARCA (To a Monarch Butterfly)
by Homero Aridjis (translated by George McWhirter)
Tu que vas por el día
como un tigre alado
quemándote en tu vuelo
dime qué vida sobrenatural
está pintada en tus alas
para que después de esta vida
pueda verte en mi noche
You who go through the day
like a winged tiger
burning as you fly
tell me what supernatural life
is painted on your wings
so that after this life
I may see you in my night
Don’t know why exactly, but there is something special about a monarch sighting. Maybe it’s the mystery of where it’s going, where it’s been, or the mystical legend of monarchs as returning spirits of deceased loved ones. But, to watch thousands of monarchs flying en masse………..well, you just have to see it!
The Wings of Life – Monarch Butterflies is a short video from Disneynature studio that captures in spectacular time-lapse/high speed/macro cinematography many thousands of monarchs wintering in Mexico, with close-up views of these amazing butterflies in action. The video documentary was directed by award-winning nature filmmaker, Louie Schwartzberg, and narrated by Meryl Streep.
–One of the most remarkable natural phenomena on Earth–
The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is an iconic pollinator species native to the New World where it can be found from southern Canada to northern South America. Monarchs can also be found hanging out in other parts of the world: Caribbean, Hawaii, Cook Islands, the Solomons, New Caledonia, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Azores, Canary Islands, Gibraltar, the Philippines and North Africa, and they make an occasional visit to the UK as an ‘accidental migrant’ (displacement is caused by storms, high winds, swift currents). Bright orange coloring with black and white markings make monarchs easy to spot, but they are commonly misidentified as the smaller viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus), another North American butterfly with similar pattern and coloring.
A monarch’s life is spent on the move, and it’s complicated. Each year in late summer to early autumn, millions of monarchs migrate thousands of miles south from central and northern US states and southern Canada to Mexico, Florida and the coastal areas of southern and central California where they make a winter home in large clusters of colonies high within trees. Taking advantage of air currents and thermals and traveling only during daylight hours (roosting in clusters to stay warm at night), the trip takes about two months, covering 50-100 miles a day at a flight speed of about 5.5 mph (9 km/hr). In spring, they make the journey back north.
During the spring migration northward, the travel itinerary is quite different as monarchs mate and produce four generations along the way. The first three generations have life spans of only 2 – 6 weeks, but each continues mating and moving north. The fourth generation lives 6 – 8, sometimes 9 months, and is the generation of monarchs that will migrate south for the winter. No one really knows how these later generation monarchs navigate their way to a winter home they have never before visited. Clearly, they must rely on instincts rather than learning as the last generation with knowledge of the route is long dead. Some experts have determined that monarchs must be genetically programmed to migrate long distances and use some sort of biological sun and magnetic compasses as orienting tools.
No other butterfly is known to make an epic round-trip migration as the monarch does every year. While this makes the monarch extraordinarily unique, the long journeys also cause monarchs to be particularly vulnerable to climate conditions and human activities that disrupt and destroy their habitat. Consequently, their numbers have decreased significantly during the last 20 years (a decline of more than 80 percent over the past two decades), and there is great concern that monarch migration is at high risk of failure. Conservationists, scientists, and federal, state and local organizations in the United States, Mexico and Canada have begun efforts to stop the destruction before it’s too late, and yes— everyone can do something to help monarchs and have fun doing it!
• Create a Monarch Habitat Make a special spot for monarchs. Maybe it’s just a small pot on your front steps, patio or balcony, a backyard garden, pasture, farm or ranch land. Plant milkweed and nectar plants that are native to your area and free of pesticides, insecticides and neonicotinoids.
• Help Scientists Study Monarchs
• Get Involved as a Community Join forces with friends, neighbors and colleagues to develop ‘monarch friendly’ landscaping at schools, businesses, community parks and gardens, and urban green spaces with native plants and wildflowers for monarchs.
• Garden Organically Using organic methods in your garden will reduce your impact on monarchs, their food plants and other pollinators.
• Support Conservation Efforts
• Spread the Word about Pollinators, Conservation, and How to Help It’s easy to get started with this one — Share this article with your friends!
References/Information Sources [To learn more about helping monarchs, check out these selected resources]:
Monarch Butterfly Basic Facts, Defenders of Wildlife website
Monarch Migration, University of Minnesota website, Biology & Research
Migration and Overwintering, USDA Forest Service website
Monarch Butterfly Migration Interactive Map It’s fun to keep track of monarch migration. This interactive map has the best up-to-date info on Spring 2017 first sightings (January – July). Check it out, and report your sightings, too.
Monarch Migration Could Collapse as Population Remains Low, Center for Biological Diversity (March 5, 2018) More milkweed needed! The count of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico (released 3/5/18), shows a decrease from last year’s count, and “confirms the iconic orange and black butterfly is still very much at risk”.
The Monarch Butterfly is in Trouble —You Can Help! US Fish and Wildlife Service
“Monarchs Still Need Your Help” (Open Spaces, US Fish & Wildlife blog, 2/14/2017)
How to Build a Butterfly/Pollinator Garden in 7 Steps, US Fish and Wildlife Service (May 18, 2016). Regional Milkweed Planting Guide –The Xerces Society website
Study Monarchs: Citizen Science Opportunities. How to help scientists count and track monarchs.
Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve Located within rugged forested mountains about 64 miles (100 km) northwest of Mexico City, researchers first discovered monarchs overwintering within the area in 1975. It was designated a federal reserve in 1980 by presidential decree and a World Heritage Site in 2008.
WWF Monarch Butterfly Tours – Ecotours of central Mexico provide an opportunity to observe and photograph large colonies of monarchs at their remote winter roosting sites in the highlands of central Mexico. “The Kingdom of the Monarchs” 2018 tour dates are scheduled January thru March.
Myth and Mystery in Mexico’s Monarch Kingdom, Good Nature Travel (October, 2009)
“Migration: The Biology of Life on the Move” by Hugh Dingle (Oxford University Press, 2014)
Nature is full of extraordinary sights to experience and explore, and talented photographers bring it all to life on your screen. You’ll be amazed!
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Feature photo of monarch butterfly is courtesy of Pixabay/Pexels CC0