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Monarch Butterflies: the ‘Snowbirds’ of Angangueo

  • Date: 12 November 2010
  • Author: Elissa Leibowitz Poma, WWF Travel Manager
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The urban landscape of Mexico City quickly gives way to the fresh air and forests of the highlands. The snow-capped volcano, Xinantécatl, stands at attention in the distance.
 
The destination for the day: the mountain community of Angangueo, in the eastern part of the state of Michoacán. Sitting more than 8,040 feet above sea level, the town is postcard perfect: tile roofs, with stucco buildings, cobblestone lanes, cornfields clinging to steep hillsides.
 
Originally a mineral mining town—“Angangueo” means “entrance to the cave” in the Tarascan language— the traditional village turned its industry to focus on the monarch butterflies that winter in nearby  fragrant forests filled with pine, oak and oyamel trees.

“The people who live here are very proud of having the monarchs there,” said WWF’s Monica Echeverria, who is from Mexico and has traveled to Angangueo and its butterfly sanctuary of El Rosario 130 miles west of Mexico City. “There are many local customs surrounding the butterfly.”

The most noteworthy one is the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead (“Dia de los Muertos”). According to traditional beliefs, monarchs butterflies are actually the souls of deceased ancestors who annually return for a brief visit.

“Our pre-Hispanic ancestors believed, and we continue to believe, that the souls of our dead relatives come to stay overnight with the whole family on the night of the second of November,” writes Estela Romero on the web site Learner.org. “Our ancestors who settled in the state of Michoacán believed that the monarch butterflies arriving were the souls of our relatives arriving to their hometowns.”

Natives in and around Angangueo eagerly tracked the butterflies’ arrival for hundreds of years for another reason, too. Their arrival indicated when it was time to harvest the corn—hence why native Purépecha Indians called the insect the “harvester butterfly.”

During our visit to Angnagueo, we’ll stay at the rustic Posado Don Bruno, a small and basic, yet charming guest house-style hotel with balconies overlooking an open courtyard.

Travel to Angangueo to see monarch butterflies with WWF.

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