...or simply monarch (Danaus plexippus) is a milkweed butterfly (subfamily Danainae) in the family Nymphalidae. Other common names depending on region include milkweed, common tiger, wanderer, and black veined brown. It may be the most familiar North American butterfly, and is considered an iconic pollinator species. Its wings feature an easily recognizable black, orange, and white pattern, with a wingspan of 8.9–10.2 cm ( 3 1⁄2–4 in). The viceroy butterfly is similar in color and pattern, but is markedly smaller and has an extra black stripe across each hindwing.
Every year hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies undertake a great journey of up to 3000 miles in their annual migration from Canada and the United States to their wintering grounds in Mexico. Once in Mexico, the monarchs congregate in the oyamel fir trees of Michoacan and Mexico states
The small town of Angangueo sits high in the Sierra Madre at the eastern edge of the state of Michoacán.
It’s small with a population of just under 5,000 people, roughly the size of Osoyoos in the off-season. The population has fallen greatly since previous decades when the town was known for its silver mining. Today tourists come here to see one of the natural wonders of the world unfold – the migration of the monarch butterfly.
Every winter, millions of monarch butterflies arrive here to spend their winters on a few mountains in the immediate area. Conditions are perfect for them because the cool temperatures allow them to conserve energy through the winter, and there is the right amount of moisture for them. It takes several generations of butterfly to complete one year’s migration, yet guided by instinct and their antennae, they know exactly where to return to each winter.
Normally the lifecycle of a monarch butterfly is four to five weeks, and that’s how long they live when they are born in Texas and travel north to Ontario and Québec. But then, a super generation is born in Canada that actually lives up to seven months and this single butterfly makes the entire migration from Canada to Mexico. Riding the air currents high above the ground, they can travel more than 100 km a day on their migration south. The phenomenon of their migration was only ultimately proven in the 1970s by a Canadian, Dr. Fred Urquhart, who dedicated 40 years of his life to unraveling the mystery of where the butterflies went in the winter. Hundreds of volunteers in Canada and the United States put tiny identification stickers onto butterflies, and Urquhart tracked their movements. Finally, in his 70s, he came to this area and was amazed to find among millions of butterflies one that had a sticker that had been put on it in Minnesota, proving that a single butterfly had made the entire migration.
Watching and Waiting in Angangueo
Meet the children in Mexico who are eagerly preparing to announce the monarchs’ arrival.
“Is it really true that they are coming from so far away - and that we are such a special region in the world they choose to spend the winter with us?” the children asked Estela Romero, Journey North’s reporter from the region.
“We will keep alert to give you the great news,” promised Estela.
The emerging field of Evolutionary Developmental Biology or ‘evo devo’ has revolutionized biology. It has provided a new way to study the evolution of traits and patterns by understanding development. This field came to birth with the advent of technologies for sequencing entire genomes and new ways to paint cellular life using fluorescent markers. For the best or for the worst, we are now able to further understand evolutionary paradigms by identifying, reshuffling, and coloring genes necessary for development.
Mendel’s research is at the heart of this growing field of evo devo. Away from his home, he finds refuge in the micro-world of the structural genes. A confused identity settles in as he disconnects from the macro-world around him. As Mendel wanders through the world of gene encounters and their functions, they each take on a personal significance in his life. Ultimately, Mendel fully transforms physically and psychologically to alter his own patterns of gene expression in time and space. He transforms into a new winged butterfly-man hybrid escaping his own reality and a troubled past.