Monarch Butterfly
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Monarch Migration Update: November 3, 1998

Today's Report Includes:

Monarchs now arriving in Mexican sanctuaries!

Latest News From the Monarch Sanctuaries

November 2, 1998

I'm writing from Angangueo, Mexico, the finish line of the monarchs' marathon migration. Four of the eleven known sanctuaries surround this small town, and all of the sanctuaries fit in an area only 70 miles wide. If you look at a map of Mexico you'll see how incredibly small the monarchs' target is. When we arrived on Thursday (Oct 29 ) not a single monarch was in sight; so the anticipation is exciting as we scan the skies and wonder, will they find this place again this year?

Students monitoring the monarchs' arrival each day are only beginning to see an increase. Last weekend (24/25 October) they saw a large cloud of butterflies near the "Pedro Ascencio" school, but other than that there are very few monarchs to be seen here in this region.

Noche de los Muertos (Night of the Dead)
Last night was the Mexican fiesta known as Noche de los Muertos (Night of the Dead), the night the souls of the deceased ancestors return to earth to visit their loved ones. Leading up to this night, people prepare an "ofrenda" (alter) in their homes, decorated with candles, marigolds, and the favorite food and drink of the dead. We visited several cemeteries which were filled with life and activity--unlike any I've ever seen in the U.S. Families were united beside the grave sites where many spent the night under a nearly full moon and surrounded by candlelight.

In the monarchs' mountains in Michoacan, some say the returning monarchs represent the souls, because they arrive each year at the time of this fiesta. But an even older tradition is the corn harvest, which occurs here each year when the monarchs arrive. In the native language, Purepecha, the name for the "monarch" is the "harvester", because the monarchs' arrival has for hundreds of years told the native people it's time to harvest the corn.

We've been busy here meeting with teachers and arranging homes for your symbolic monarchs. We'll deliver them to students next week. On Saturday we came upon a community meeting of the Cerro Prieto ejido. (Ejidos are communities that own common land.) The Cerro Prieto ejido owns some of the most critical land in the Sierra Chincua sanctuary, the largest in the world. The people were preparing for the monarchs' arrival--and the tourists that will follow. Community members will serve as guides, manage the entrance and guard the forest. This is only the 3rd year the sanctuary has been open to tourists and everyone hopes the money tourists bring will grow so that the people won't have to cut the monarchs' forest for their own survival.
While we only intended to visit privately with the community leader, we were suddenly invited to tell the whole community about the symbolic migration. We had pictures along, and the people loved the sight of the thousands of butterflies you created. We had two sample butterflies with us, one from Hannah of Marblehead, MA., and the other from Krista of Eagan, MN.

When we asked if their children would take care of these symbolic butterflies, just as they were responsible to care for the real monarchs in the forests beyond, they all said spontaneously "Si, si!!" and burst into applause.

We'll continue to watch for the arrival of millions of monarchs we know are coming this way.

Elizabeth Donnelly
Related WWW Resources on Mexico's Festivals of the Dead

The FINAL Monarch Migration Update Will be Posted on November 17, 1998.

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