Searching for Monarchs in the Sierra Chincua Sanctuary
by Elizabeth Howard

A personal guide ("guia" in Spanish) accompanies all visitors to the sanctuary.

December 2003
Our guide offered to take us on a two hour hike deep into the Sierra Chincua Sanctuary for a special treat. He knew where a second colony had formed near a place the local people call La Mojonera. There, we'd find trees draped with butterflies, more spectacular than at the first colony, which was nearby but busy with tourists. If we were willing to walk that far, he said, we would be treated to a private audience with the butterflies. Who wouldn't go?

But when we reached the site the butterflies were gone! The place they had occupied for a month--and had been seen as recently as 3 days before--had suddenly been vacated.

Although disappointed, this changed our day into a butterfly hunt. We experienced what the biologists did when first searching for the colonies.

We knew the butterflies were here, but where? Clustering monarchs are surprisingly hard to see, they are so well camouflaged in the trees. And the Sierra Chincua is huge forest.

We scanned the trees carefully as we walked. We also watched the ground for clues. But that day, the butterflies that had temporarily inhabited La Mojonera were not to be found.

Journaling Question
Answer the questions below in your science journal. Then click here to see what the experts think.

1) Why Look Down?

  • Why do you think we watched the ground when looking for the colonies? What clues do you think we were looking for on the forest floor of the sanctuary?

2) Where Are the Butterflies?
All of the photos below were taken in the monarch sanctuaries. You can see the structure of the oyamel forest, and have the fun of searching for clustering monarchs yourself. Can you find them?

  • Which pictures contain trees with clusters of butterflies? In your answer, use the most descriptive details you can to convey how monarch butterfly colonies appear in the oyamel fir forest.







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