Tag Archives: Mexico

Monarch Strong

On February 26th, 2016, our partners in Mexico released that their estimates of the overwintering monarch butterfly population has increased by 255%! This year, monarchs are inhabiting approximately 10 acres of oyamel fir forests, which is up from 2.8 acres last year. This is a great accomplishment for the iconic species, but more work is needed to restore the eastern monarch population to historic numbers.

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Monarchs cling to each other in dense groups during the winter months. Photo Credit: Pablo Leautaud, Creative Commons (https://flic.kr/p/atiVia)

Best known for their extensive 2,000 mile migration, monarchs travel from southern Canada and the United States every fall to their overwintering home in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico. Here, the monarchs gather by the millions in oyamel fir trees where the weather is mild enough to survive the winter. This dense gathering also allows scientists to accurately estimate the monarch population, based on the total area they occupy. It is important to know the health of the monarch butterflies because they serve as an indicator for other pollinating insects. Pollinating insects are crucial to the success of our agricultural crops and native wildlife!

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This monarch has been tagged for research to learn more about the monarch migration! Photo Credit: Monarch butterflies by Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS.

On their return flight to the United States and Canada in early spring, monarchs utilize native wildflower meadows and milkweed plants along the way. These areas allow monarchs to reproduce so the newest generations can continue north to their summer grounds.  Milkweed is the monarch’s host plant, meaning they need these plants for survival. The Service has been diligently working to improve this monarch habitat and increase the overall population. Although we have made significant progress this past year, our job is not done! Help save the monarchs by reducing your use of pesticides and planting more milkweed and wildflowers!

Click here to learn more about how you can protect the monarch butterfly and other pollinators.

Monarchs Arrive for Day of the Dead

It’s early November and, monarchs have finally completed their migration! The ones who have beat all the odds and survived predators, parasites, storms and a 3,000 mile flight, are ready to rest for the winter months in the Transvolcanic Mountains of Mexico.

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Map of monarch migration.

During winter, the normally solitary monarchs will roost in large groups to stay warm and maintain fat reserves they’ve accumulated from the fall, clinging tightly to each other in oyamel fir forests. These tiny, dwindling stands of trees provide a microclimate with ideal temperature, humidity, and elevation for monarchs to overwinter. On brief, sunny occasions, monarchs will venture off in search of water, never straying too far from the protective cover of the mature fir canopy.

Monarch populations are monitored during the winter months because their distribution is so widespread during the migration and breeding seasons. While breeding populations in late summer are much larger, many monarchs don’t survive the migration and therefore do not contribute to the next spring’s generation. NatureServe and The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation estimate monarchs occupy about 1.65 acres of oyamel fir forests across 12 different locations, a sharp decline from the 50 acre stand used by wintering monarchs in the late 1990s. As many know, the populations have dropped significantly in the last 20 years. Last winter marked the smallest overwintering monarch population that has ever been recorded. There are many factor influencing the decline of monarch populations. The occurrence of episodic weather events and loss of summer breeding habitat contribute to declining numbers, while illegal logging and invasive species have fragmented and compromised the integrity of the oyamel forests in which the monarchs overwinter.

Monarchs feeding on nectar.

Monarchs feeding on nectar.

If this fascinating journey and tale of survival wasn’t interesting enough, the arrival of the monarchs coincides with a significant event in Mexican culture. October 31 marks the beginning of  “El Dia de los Muertos” or Day of the Dead, a time when everyone comes together to celebrate and remember deceased family, friends, and ancestors. Monarchs arriving at the wintering grounds in Mexico this time of year are the “great grandchildren” of the monarchs that began the migration cycle in March of the previous year. Unlike their parents and grandparents that lived for several weeks, the migrating generation will live upwards of nine months as they overwinter in Mexico.

Day of the Dead artwork by Ryan Connors.

“The Monarch Returns.” by Ryan Conners

Day of the Dead coincides with the Christian holy days, All Hallows Eve, All Saint’s Day, and All Souls days which are celebrated October 31 through November 2. As Catholic traditions and indigenous cultures mixed, monarchs have come to represent the souls of loved ones returning to visit each year.

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Las Monarcas llegan para el Día de los Muertos

¡Estamos a principios de noviembre, y las mariposas monarca finalmente están a fines de su migración! Tras sobrevivir la amenaza de depredadores, parásitos, tormentas y un vuelo de 3.000 millas, las monarcas están listos para descansar en las montañas Transvolcánicas de México.

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Un mapa de migración del monarca.

Durante el invierno, las monarcas se agrupan, aferrándose con fuerza uno al otro en los bosques de oyamel para mantener el calor y mantener las reservas de grasa que han acumulado en el otoño. En breves ocasiones, se aventuran en busca de agua, sin alejarse de la protección del oyamel maduro. Estos diminutos, cada vez más escasos rodales de árboles proporcionan un microclima con temperatura, humedad, y elevación ideal para esta especie.

Las poblaciones de la mariposa monarca son monitoreados durante los meses del invierno, debido a que su distribución es tan grande durante las temporadas de migración y cría. Las poblaciones a finales del verano son mucho más grandes, pero la mayoría de las monarcas no sobreviven la migración y, por lo tanto, no contribuyen a la siguiente generación. NatureServe y la Sociedad Xerces estiman que las monarcas ocuparon aproximadamente 1.65 acres de bosques en 12 sitios el invierno pasado, la populación invernante más pequeña que se ha registrado nunca. Esta es una disminución sustantiva de la parada de 50 acres utilizado por las monarcas a finales de los 1990. Factores que influyen a la disminución son muchas. La ocurrencia de fenómenos meteorológicos episódicos y la pérdida de hábitat de reproducción en verano contribuyen a la disminución, además,  la tala ilegal y las especies invasoras fragmentan y ponen en peligro la integridad de los bosques de oyamel que usan las monarcas.

Monarchs feeding on nectar.

Los monarcas se alimentan de néctar.

Si este fascinante viaje y relato de supervivencia no fuera lo suficientemente interesante, la llegada de las monarcas coincide con un acontecimiento importante de la cultura mexicana. El 31 de octubre marca el comienzo del Día de los Muertos, una época en que familiares se reúnen para celebrar y recordar a los antepasados. Las monarcas que llegan a sus territorios invernantes en México son, en realidad, los “bis nietos” de las monarcas que comenzaron el ciclo de la migración en marzo del año anterior. A diferencia de las previas generaciones que solo permanecen vivos por corto tiempo, la generación de monarcas migratorias vivirán más de nueve meses, y pasaran el invierno en México.

Day of the Dead artwork by Ryan Connors.

“El regreso de la monarca.” by Ryan Conners

El Día de los Muertos coincide con los días santos cristianos, All Hallows Eve, Día de Todos los Santos y Todas las Almas que se celebran 31 de octubre al 2 de noviembre. Como las tradiciones católicas y culturas indígenas mezclaron, las monarcas han llegado a representar las almas de los seres queridos que regresan a visitar cada año.

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