Monarch Butterfly, Migrant Queen,Will Have a Sanctuary Here
By Jesús Aguado
The monarch butterfly, an insect known for its massive winter migration from North to South, will now be bred and cared for in a sanctuary in San Miguel.
Annually the fragile butterfly travels around 5,000 kilometers from Canada to México, where it settles in the sanctuaries of the forests of Michoacán and the state of Mexico. The butterflies start arriving at the end of October and the beginning of November—from there comes the belief in Michoacán that they are the souls of loved ones who passed away and come back to visit them for the Day of the Dead.
The butterflies form groups of up to a million and rest in the oyamel (forest) on 20 to 50-meter long trees that provide an adequate temperature and protect them from rainfall and wind. There, the butterflies eat from a wild plant called algodoncillo (milkweed).
During their journey, some butterflies decided to stay in the city of Celaya, in the garden at the home of Dr. Manuel Velázquez, who after three years understands their reproduction cycle. Now living in San Miguel de Allende, Velázquez moved the butterflies with him and started a reproduction method that he is willing to share with local authorities. There will be projects to create sanctuaries at the Club de Golf Malanquín, Parque Juárez, and Parque Bicentenario, located on the road to Dr. Mora.
Dr. Velázquez, a plastic surgeon, told Atención that eight years ago, as the monarch butterflies were passing through Celaya during the winter migration, he saw how some of them stayed at his garden where they fed from the algodoncillo. He also saw that the butterflies were mating and placing their eggs in the wild weeds. “After 10 days caterpillars were born on the leaves of the plant. After two or three weeks, a caterpillar that hung from a stem or a branch of the milkweed became a jade green cocoon with a thin yellow crown around it.” Dr. Velázquez noted that the process of becoming a chrysalis took only five minutes. Between 12 and 15 days later, new monarch butterflies are born.
After observation and study, Dr. Velázquez encouraged the butterflies to remain in his garden for five years by planting more milkweed, whose seeds are spread by the wind. When he moved to San Miguel, he planted milkweed in his garden and started raising butterflies there, too.
“The task is not so easy,” said Dr. Velázquez. “Monarch butterflies have deadly enemies in this area, such as microscopic flies and arachnids, as well as wasps and common house flies that bite the cocoon and deposit their eggs inside it. In that case, the fly’s larva emerges from the egg inside the chrysalis, causing its death.”
Dr. Velázquez experimented with a way to protect caterpillars as well as their chrysalis. “You can collect the eggs in the leaf, cut around the egg, and place it in a flat crystal or plastic dish, and then leave it to hatch. Then you can feed the newborn caterpillar in a container with a perforated lid until it becomes a chrysalis. You must provide it with fresh milkweed leaves twice a day and clean the mess (which is like rabbit pellets and does not smell). Once the time is right, the caterpillar will hang from the roof of the container and become a chrysalis. In 12 or 15 days, it will become a butterfly. Then you can set it free.”
He says that it is possible to let the caterpillar develop in the wild and collect the chrysalis by gently detaching it from the stem with tweezers, taking part of the silken net by which it hangs. Then you place it in a secure transparent container with a lid, making holes in the lid to let air in, and hang the cocoon by tying it with a thin thread to the perforated lid. It will hatch there.
Dr. Velázquez encourages those interested in forming a group to receive instruction on how to breed monarch butterflies. “It is truly an amazing experience to take part in this adventure, which helps the monarch butterfly to survive in our ever-changing ecological system. I invite those interested to join this challenge. I will be delighted to offer support and advice on the process of breeding the monarch butterflies and being an instrument in saving and preserving them.” Dr. Velázquez would like to start a sanctuary project in Parque Juárez. The most important step is to have plenty of milkweed planted in private gardens or in public areas since it is the butterfly’s only way for reproduction. The butterflies will follow.
Until now, Dr. Velázquez has ignored whether butterflies emigrate or stay the whole year at his home, but he knows there are butterflies in his garden, which is next to the Club de Golf Malanquín, throughout the year.
José Luis Bribiesca Mojica, manager of the Club de Golf Malanquín, is the first person to have adopted Velázquez’s idea of reproducing butterflies in San Miguel. Currently they are planting milkweed at the club, and they expect to populate it with thousands of butterflies in the next five years. They also believe the golf club has everything it takes to provide a habitat and protection for the insect. “If we succeed, this could be a new natural attraction in San Miguel,” says Bribiesca.
Dr. Velázquez proposed the same idea to Víctor Velázquez, director of the local Environment and Ecology department, with the idea to have the monarchs at the Juárez and Bicentenario parks, but there has not been a decisive answer to date. To contact Dr. Velázquez, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Monarch butterflies’ life cycle
On average, butterflies live 24 days; monarch butterflies can live up to nine months. According to the SEMARNAT (Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources), the formation process of a monarch has three phases that last approximately one month:
• Egg, four days
• Caterpillar, two weeks
• Cocoon, ten days
• Butterfly, nine months of life
During their stay in Mexico, butterflies court and reproduce the new generation that will migrate to Canada and the United States in March. Although the parents also emigrate, they will not return to Mexico next year because they die in the north.
Differences between male and female monarchs
The SEMARNAT states that a monarch butterfly in its natural habitat can lay from 300 to 400 eggs. The insects can measure from eight to 12 centimeters. A female butterfly has darker wings, and the black strips on its wings are thicker. Males are a little bit bigger and the rear wings have a black spot through which they release pheromones.
Tours to the sanctuaries in Michoacán
“When we go to see the monarch butterfly, and it is a sunny day, the butterflies fly, and we cannot even see the sky,” says Francisco Correa, a sanmiguelense who organizes tours to the sanctuary of Rosario in Michoacán. “Visitors must stay in silence if they want to hear not only the sound of the monarchs’ flight, but also the music from his wings,” says Francisco.
Correa also commented that the tour leaves San Miguel at 8am. When visitors arrive in Rosario, they have to walk a 600-meter path along which locals sell their art crafts and food. The horseback ride will depend on where the insects are because they move daily from one place to the other. There must be a minimum number of people (four) for the tour. For more information call La Tienda at La Biblioteca: 127 0450.