Close your eyes, clear your mind and open them again. You are in pine and fir-tree forest in the mountains of Michoacán, Mexico. Only the sound of water and the rays of the sun through the dense vegetation graze your face. All around you, waves of orange and black flying through a timeless forest: these are the Monarch butterflies.

The ‘Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve‘ in Mexico is home to thousands of butterflies, which travel 2500 miles from Canada and the United States to Mexico each year. Find out more about this unique phenomenon!

Monarch Butterfly Reserve: where are we?

We are in the State of Michoacán, Mexico, in the nature reserve that hosts thousands of Monarch butterflies every year between November and March. This area, certainly famous for this one-of-a-kind phenomenon, boasts of significant biodiversity too: we count 132 species of bees, 56 mammals, 432 ancient plants, and 211 species of mushrooms. Because of its uniqueness, indeed, UNESCO recognized it as World Natural Heritage Site in 2008!

Nature reserve, Michoacan, Mexico

Precisely because of Monarch migration, the Mexican government decreed the protection of these natural colonies in 1980. After the initial projects were launched, we now have a reserve of about 56 thousand hectares.

At the same time, several illegal activities took place in these areas. From here, the need to create a program to protect nature even more: ‘Cero Tolerancia a la Tala Clandestina el la Reserva de la Biosfera Mariposa Monarca‘ program (Zero tolerance of deforestation). Thank this project, from 243 hectares deforested in 2007  we ended with 0.4 hectares in August 2011.

Monarch Butterflies: who are they?

The Monarch butterfly is native to Canada and the United States, and each year travels over 2500 miles to reach the Mexican forests and spend winter there.

These orange and black butterflies are fundamental both for pollinating and maintaining the ecosystem of the forests they inhabit. In fact, their feeding on small grasses, known by the locals as venenillo and algodoncillo, allows the preservation of fauna and flora of the area.

Monarch butterfly, Mexico
Photo by Kathy Servian on Unsplash

The uniqueness of this species lies not only in the long distances it covers but also in its longevity. Usually, the life cycle of butterflies is about 24 days, but Monarch butterflies can live up to 9 months!

During their stay in Mexico, they reproduce and the new generation goes back to Canada and the United States; however, none of them will return to Mexico, as their life cycle only lasts a few weeks.

Why is Mexico the perfect habitat?

The mountains of Michoacán and the State of Mexico, at 3000 m above sea level, are some of the few places in the world that offer ideal conditions for the life of the Monarch butterflies. As soon as they arrive, they settle in fir-tree and pine forests at an altitude of 2400-3600 meters, where vegetation is very dense and trees reach a height of between 20 and 50 meters. The cool temperature, high humidity, and dense vegetation create an ideal microclimate for this species.

Monarch butterfly, Mexico

As we have discovered, Mexico is the Monarch butterfly’s second home. But the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Michoacán is not the only area chosen by the species.

Here, five nature reserves home to these hard-traveling creatures:

  • Santuario El Rosario and Santuario Sierra Chincua (State of Michoacán)
  • Santuario Ejido El Capulín, Santuario Piedra Herrada and Santuario La Mesa (State of Messico)
Monarch butterfly, Mexico
Photo by Alex Guillaume on Unsplash

By visiting these reserves, you’ll learn about Monarch butterflies’ life and take part in this incredible event. Discover the majestic nature of the area on foot, by bike, or on horseback, or fly over the areas on a zipline. Experience the forests of Mexico as the Monarch butterflies do!