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Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve

Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve

To protect overwintering sites, the Mexican government in 1986 created the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, which today covers 560 square kilometres.

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Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve

Located in the mountains of Michoacán state about 100 km northwest of Mexico City, the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve offers an amazing spectacle featuring millions of butterflies that gather there each winter, bending the oyamel pine branches under their weight. In 2008, this site of outstanding ecological value was declared a Unesco biosphere reserve, helping to protect the overwintering zones essential to the monarch butterfly. Here they find the conditions they need to survive, thanks to the microclimate created by the forest canopy.

The wonder of the monarch’s migration

Each year in late October, the reserve welcomes butterflies that have migrated from eastern Canada. The west coast butterflies, for their part, spend winter in the eucalyptus forests of California. The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve consists of several sanctuaries that protect the habitats of about 70% of Mexico’s migratory butterfly population.

To conserve energy for the return north in the spring, the butterflies remain clustered together during the overwintering season, and fly off only to feed. Toward the end of February, they emerge from their winter slumber and enter mating season. At the end of March, the butterflies begin the migration to Canada. Several generations are born and die during the journey. The last generation of monarchs born in Canada, in August, are those who will make the journey back to Mexico in the fall.

The last generation to finish the migration is different from the others, living for several months, while the rest survive only a few weeks. How a tiny butterfly weighing barely half a gram succeeds in finding its way back to Mexico remains a mystery. Scientists have hypothesized that the sun guides them, or simply their genetic heritage. Flying 75 km a day, this amazing butterfly manages to cover some 4,000 km, following updrafts of warm air to conserve energy.

A wonder under threat

 Maintaining the forest, along with the microclimate it generates, is vital to the monarch butterfly’s survival. Unfortunately, illegal logging continues in the mountains of Mexico. In addition to deforestation, monarchs fall victim to the elements, such as high winds and cold temperatures, to predators, and to the disappearance of milkweed. This plant, the primary food source for adult butterflies and larva, is being destroyed by herbicides that have become ever more effective. Desire to protect the monarch butterfly and its habitats has led to the creation of a North American conservation plan adopted by Mexico, the United States and Canada.

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