My Monarch Butterfly Migration Trip

nicole bolin trip to monarch butterfly migration
nicole bolin trip to monarch butterfly migration

My husband and I were fortunate enough to be able to take a trip to the Monarch Butterfly Reserve in Mexico and it was one of the most amazing and memorable trips of my life.

Being surrounded by millions of Monarch butterflies is an experience of a lifetime and something that everyone should put on their bucket list. Located just 62 miles northwest of Mexico City, the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve is just a hop, skip and a jump away from Phoenix, AZ.

We started our trip by flying from Phoenix to Mexico City, where we spent one night to give our bodies time to adjust to the higher altitude before embarking on our trip to the Monarch Reserve, situated 10,660 feet above sea level. We would have 3 days in which to visit with the Monarchs – the first day was at El Rosario Sanctuary, the second day at Chincua Sanctuary and then back to El Rosario Sanctuary for the third day.

The butterfly activity is completely dependent on the weather and we were extremely fortunate to have beautiful warm weather with sunny skies the first day we arrived at El Rosario Sanctuary.  When the weather is warm and sunny, thousands of Monarchs are flittering around you and the blue skies sparkle with glints of bright orange. When the weather is overcast or cold, they congregate on the pine trees and huddle together to keep warm.

While I’ve tried to capture the experience with pictures, no picture can really do it justice – you really need to experience it for yourself. You might think those large clumps in the trees are just dead leaves, but they aren’t, those clumps are ALL BUTTERFLIES! You can see the greenery – those are pine needles, but the brownish/orange clumps are all butterflies. Sometimes the tree branches crack off and fall due to the weight of the butterflies roosting on them. Butterflies weigh next to nothing, so can you image how many butterflies have to be perched on a branch to make it crack and fall off the tree!

The Monarch Migration Story

Every autumn, the Monarch Butterflies begin their migration from Canada & northeastern U.S. to Mexico. While a single butterfly will make the roughly 3,000 mile trip to Mexico, it is not a single butterfly that makes the return trip but rather 3-5 successive generations that are born and die along the route.  

What’s that you say? Yes, let’s break this down. 

A single butterfly will travel to Mexico to spend the winter and then begin mating in March when the weather warms. Female butterflies will mate with numerous males during this time, but it’s only her last mate that will be the father of her children.  After mating, almost all of the males will die in Mexico. All the females and the few remaining males will begin their migration back north to lay eggs on milkweed plants in northern Mexico and the southern U.S. The males that make the trip north are known as super males.  They are the strongest and most-fit and because they made it out of Mexico they are the last males to mate with some of the females, passing on the strongest genes.  The super males will die and the females will lay their eggs on milkweed plants before also dying. When the eggs hatch, this second generation of butterflies will pick up the migratory route north. Along the way butterflies will continue to mate, lay eggs and die so that a new generation of butterflies continue north.  The butterflies that make it back to Canada and the northeastern U.S. can be anywhere from 3-5 generations removed from the original butterfly that traveled from Canada/U.S. to Mexico. Once winter starts to approach, these butterflies who have never made the trip south to Mexico, find their way back to the Biosphere Reserve, which is a feat that to this day scientists are still unable to explain. There are theories, but I urge you to visit the Monarch Butterfly Reserve to learn about the amazing feat of nature for yourself.

After returning from our trip I was inspired to create a piece of art for our home that would remind us of our wonderful trip to the Monarch Reserve, so I created this massive 3D mural (approximately 24″H x 60″W) which hangs on the wall in one of our bedrooms. It took 31 hours to complete – definitely a labor of love.

monarch butterfly mural
monarch butterfly wreath

When I had the idea to create the 3D Mural I thought it could be a project offered at our studio aaand then it took 31 hours to complete. So I designed a second project, a Monarch Butterfly Wreath, which can be completed in a more reasonable time frame.

Author: Nicole Bolin