Owners of communal land located near the Nevado de Toluca volcano in México state have discovered a monarch butterfly colony long searched for by park rangers and conservationists.
A small group of ejidatarios, or communal landowners, was carrying out a routine patrol of their forested land within the Nevado de Toluca National Park just before Christmas when they found the butterflies hanging in massive clumps from the branches of Oyamel fir trees on a steep mountainside.
Local forester José Luis Hernández Vázquez told the Associated Press that the landowners “didn’t make a big deal” about the find, explaining that he contacted the Natural Protected Areas Commission (Conanp) and other government authorities that confirmed the existence of the colony in mid-January.
However, officials say that the newly-discovered colony won’t be opened to the public as is the case with some other areas where the butterflies overwinter in México state and Michoacán.
Mario Castañeda Rojas, director of the Nevado de Toluca reserve, explained that the reason for maintaining the colony off limits was to “guarantee lively, healthy exemplars” that don’t suffer stress due to the presence of visitors during the four-month hibernation season.
Park rangers and conservationists had long suspected that there was a hidden monarch butterfly colony within the 53,419-hectare national park.
But despite looking for years and narrowing their search to the communal lands located more than 3,000 meters above sea level on the northwestern side of the park, they were never able to find it.
“It was like an urban legend,” said Gloria Tavera Alonso, a regional director for Conanp.
The discovery of the colony helped to make this year’s monarch butterfly migration the largest in 12 years.
The Natural Protected Areas Commission announced late last month that the area occupied by the butterflies was up 144% to 6.05 hectares, the largest area covered since 2006-2007.
The number of butterflies that reach Mexico each year from the United States and Canada can fluctuate wildly depending on a variety of factors including the weather conditions the insects face during their journey.
Source: Associated Press (sp)