Photographing a monarch butterfly tagged two months ago in Canada was like “winning the lottery” for one of the most active volunteer butterfly monitors in Guanajuato state.
The tale of Gilberto Ruiz Parra’s lucky strike starts on September 3, when Canadian Betty McCulloch tagged a female monarch butterfly at the Rosetta McClain Gardens in Toronto.
Sixty-one days and over 3,900 kilometres later, the same butterfly was sighted in the natural protected area of the San Agustinos Sierra, in the Guanajuato municipality of Acámbaro.
It was on Thursday that Ruiz saw a large number of monarch butterflies flying over his town, San Luis de los Agustinos. He and three others decided to attempt to photograph and document the sighting and the insects’ resting place for the night.
“We were about to return home when we decided to go to the lowlands of the Los Agustinos Sierra,” Ruiz told the newspaper Milenio. The sun had already set, but the volunteer was lucky enough to find a tree with a copious number of butterflies resting on its branches.
The last light of the day was enough to reveal a tag on one butterfly’s wings and to catch Ruiz’s eye.
Then came a series of photographs as he attempted to capture a legible picture of the tag and its label. “Neither the cell phone cameras nor the more conventional ones I carried were enough to get good focus. I had to take a lot of photos before getting a sharp one,” he said.
Ruiz reported the monarch’s label number, XAL289, to staff at the Institute of Ecology of Guanajuato State (IEE), who in turn notified the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas and the United States-based non-governmental organization Monarch Watch, to reveal the insect’s journey.
Ruiz said the chance to shoot the photo that confirmed that this one insect had flown across much of North America was like winning the lottery.
The coordinator of natural protected areas at IEE, David Guzmán, told Milenio that Ruiz is one of the most active volunteers in the state. Since there is no remuneration for the job being, the agency and an NGO had collaborated and purchased a camera for him, the same one he used to shoot the migrating monarch butterfly this week.
“Being able to know where the monarchs come from is gratifying; knowing who the person was who tagged it and the person who found it later opens a link that brings us together,” Guzmán said.
The first monarch butterflies of the season were sighted October 5 in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, following which the first of groups of more than 500 were seen October 18 on the Sabinas-Presa Venustiano Carranza highway in Júarez, Coahuila. A week later the first of clusters of 1,000 or more was observed during a stopover at the Cumbres de Monterrey national park in Nuevo León.
As of this week, migrating monarchs have been sighted in 14 states.
Their annual migration takes them from the United States and Canada to the forests of Michoacán and México state, where they will overwinter.