Departure from Sierra Chincua Sanctuary
by Dr. David Mota-Sanchez, Michigan State University
and Javier Maldonado Castaneda, Sierra Chincua.

Journey North

Monarch Butterfly Tags Found at Mexico Overwintering Sanctuary

Figure 1: Percentage of monarch migration from Koala’s colony at Sierra Chincua. The dotted line that intercepts the X axis is the estimated percentage of migration until Tuesday afternoon March 21, 2017. The coordinates for the site are 19 41 1.406, and -100 18 19.767.


Spring Departure from Sierra Chincua Sanctuary

by Dr. David Mota-Sanchez, Michigan State University and Javier Maldonado Castaneda, Sierra Chincua.

Since February 14th, the temperature at Koala, the location for the main colony of monarchs in Sierra Chincua, has been rising. In addition, these days have been very sunny too. These abiotic factors, as well as many days spent at the overwintering sanctuaries, resulted in a change in metabolism and turned on specific genetic factors, leading to a rapid migration of the monarch butterfly in just a few days:

On March 17th all the butterflies from a small colony at Llano Redondo in Sierra Chincua were gone. By today in the afternoon of March 21, 2017 more than 99.999% of the biggest colony located in Koala at Sierra Chincua had migrated. (Figure 1, above).

A similar pattern was observed at El Rosario where heavy monarch migration started on Wednesday March the 15th and so far about 95% of the monarchs have migrated (Homero Gomez, personal communication).

There was movement of a small percentage of Koala’s butterflies down the mountains close to the waterfall La cascada to actively feed and drink (Picture 1). Following the creek for a distance of about 1.5 km (Picture 1) thousands of butterflies were observed avidly drinking water.  Some butterflies returned late in the afternoon to the original colony at Koala. However, most of the colony migrated to the US. There were very few clusters that remained down Koala. The movement began on March 6th and the intensity increased after March 11th.

On March 13th, waves of butterflies were observed in small groups, then bigger waves were observed beginning on March 14th. Thousands of butterflies were observed flying down the canyons of the El Monasterio (a monastery), and reaching the town of Senguio, and then moving to the north. Adults and kids from Senguio were amazed at the movement of butterflies during the morning and part of the afternoon. A few kilometers from Senguio, thousands of butterflies were observed coming very likely from the El Rosario, and joining the butterflies from Sierra Chincua. 

In some instances, butterflies were observed flying a high altitudes (about 120-150 meters) with a calm wind. They looked like tiny black spots crossing the sky, and only a seasoned observer can distinguish immediately that they were butterflies. In other cases, with stronger winds butterflies were observed flying close to the ground (5 to 20 m). Butterflies were observed flying close to bodies of water too, and some butterflies were falling down to the water, and then rapidly recovering to continue flying.

In just a few days all the remaining monarchs will be gone for their last trip to the southern part of the US to lay eggs on milkweeds and finishing an amazing journey of more than 5,500 km!

I perceived in people from the local communities some sadness, nostalgic feelings, and a sense of loneliness because the monarchs are migrating back to the US. I was told that the butterflies mean a lot to the entire region, because they bring life to the forest of southern Mexico. In addition, it is an important part of the eco-tourist activities of the local communities. 

A Mexican song “the swallow” (Las golondrinas) perhaps reflects the feelings of the people from the local communities about the departure of the monarchs. We have changed the name of the swallow for the monarch in the following fragment.

The monarch butterfly*
Where will she go,
swift and weary
The monarch
that’s gone away from here,
If in the wind
she finds herself astray
Seeking shelter
and doesn’t find it?

There will be another seven months until the monarchs will come back again, and hopefully more butterflies than in the past two years will come back to Mexico in November 2017 given the fact that there wasn’t a winter storm to wipe out the colonies this year. We observed a very good effort from the local communities and federal agencies to perform activities to preserve the forest, and monarchs - everyday a lot of hard work and sweat is put into the sanctuaries.

Acknowledgments: Authors are grateful from the kind support from the Director of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve biologist Felipe Martinez Meza and his team, and the leaders from the communities of Sierra Chincua sanctuary J. Carmen Martinez Colin and El Rosario sanctuary Homero Gomez Gonzalez. Jose Luis Valdez and Omar Vidal participated with research activities with Dr. David Mota-Sanchez at Sierra Chincua.

Editor’s Note: Koala is this is the same colony that Estela Romero visited on March 14th and again on March 16th. It is on land owned by the Senguio Ejido. There are two ways to access the site, either through the main facilities at Sierra Chincua or via the town of Senguio. (Elizabeth Howard, Journey North)

* Translation from:  https://furgots.wordpress.com/2010/04/03/la-golondrina-the-swallow/

Monarch Butterflies at Sanctuary in Mexico

Picture 1
Monarch butterflies drinking water at Sierra Chincua.

Monarch Butterflies at Sanctuary in Mexico

Picture 2
Monarch nectaring on cardosanto (thistle) Cirsium subcoriaceum.  Locals mentioned to me that they haven’t seen monarchs feeding on this flower. However, monarchs have been nectaring on this flower at the migration time. In addition, Dr. Lincoln Brower mentioned to me that he has observed monarchs nectaring on this flower.

Monarch Butterflies at Sanctuary in Mexico

Picture 3
Small clusters of monarchs formed down the main colony (Koala) at Sierra Chincua during the migration time (March 14th to the 20th 2017). Picture Mota-Sanchez and Maldonado 2017.


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