Just a few hours drive from Mexico City, in the central highlands of Mexico – October ends with one of natures greatest ponders. Why would a butterfly travel thousands of miles from Canada and the north eastern U.S., to arrive by the millions at a tiny destination. An area no bigger than 60 square miles – an event so predictable it never swings by more than a week, a phenomenon defying explanation.
Unlike Salmon who return to spawn in the river they were born – Monarch Butterflies exist within a three to five year cycle. Those born in Mexico pack their bags and head north at winter’s end – they live a month, making it about as far as Texas. The next generation get busy and have a month to reach the northern states and Canada before they expire. Third generation Monarchs do their butterfly thing with one major variance – one late August day they simply take flight and head south.
Acutely tuned to weather forecasts and direction – they know when to hunker down and ride out storms, and they know precisely where the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve is in Michoacan Mexico. Researchers have captured and tagged migrating butterflies – attempted to throw them off by relocating them from Nebraska to Washington DC. After a few days these cheeky navigators correct course, still managing to arrive on time.
Unlike their parents and grandparents – this migrating hoard is allotted an astounding 9 months to complete business. Two months migration, a winter in Mexican highland forests – huddled together for warmth on mature trees – and finally spring mating to produce the next Texas bound generation, starting the cycle over again.
Stopping to ponder this for a moment is truly humbling. Not so much a question of “why butterfly” as a testament to nature working in spite of our disregard or indifference. Nothing happens without a reason – science can’t answer why every third generation of Monarch Butterfly has nine times the life expectancy, crosses Great Lakes, plains, desserts and mountain ranges to arrive at precisely the same time every year in Mexico.
I don’t care if we ever know why – all that matters is understanding it’s that way for good reason. Listen up illegal loggers who creep about at night cutting down butterfly trees, all you land developers, miners, and reckless nincompoops – your false sense of ingenuity, greedy disregard and short sightedness bites us all in the ass.
Butterflies pollinate food crops like corn. Milkweed, the only plant they deposit eggs has dwindled with modern use of pesticides – distribution has decreased by over 50%. Deforestation, harsh winters followed by summer drought and land development have seen numbers drop drastically the last few years. Go out and plant some milkweed – nature’s balance dictates butterflies – don’t question why it matters, just ponder that it does.