The monarch lands

by Alfredo Carrera López

Für Mutige. 18 Dinge, die die Welt verändern (Ausgabe IV/2013)


A monarch butterfly. Every year in October massive swarms of monarchs migrate to central Mexico. Photo: Thinkstock

They are a glowing orange colour, the males a little darker, the females lighter. The Monarcas, monarch butterflies, are beautiful butterflies. Every year at the end of October, around the Day of the Dead, they invade Central Mexico in large swarms. They spend the winter in the tree-covered heights of the volcanic mountains of the Sierra Nevada. I remember the first time I spotted one as a child. Usually they are shy and fly away when you approach them. But this one mistook me for a tree and sat on my shoulder. I walked on and suddenly saw a huge flock of them high up in the trees.

Millions of butterflies spend the winter months in several colonies in the pine and tan forests of Michoacán State. Motionless and clumped together in clusters, they protect each other from wind and cold. When the sun appears, they flutter around. When their wings are spread out, the pattern on the butterflies is reminiscent of a child's face. Some Mexican indigenous people therefore believe that they are the souls of dead children returning to the home of their ancestors. Today, the butterflies offer an economic lifeline to the region. UNESCO has declared the wintering grounds of the butterflies a World Heritage Site and tourists come to the protected areas every year to observe the arrival of butterflies from the USA and Canada. The inhabitants of Michoacán are so proud of their monarch butterflies that a few years ago they gave the football team of the capital Morelia the nickname "Monarcas".

Translated by Jess Smee

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