Colonial towns mark migration of monarchs

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MICHOACAN, Mexico -- Hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies are on the move from the U.S. and Canada to central Mexico for the winter.

The migrating butterflies are one of the main attractions in the colonial towns of Angangueo, Ocampo, Zitacuaro and Maravatio every winter.

From November through March, more than 250 million of the brightly colored insects make the more than 3,000-mile journey to winter in the state of Michoacan.

The monarchs cling to the trunks and boughs of the trees in the Oyamel fir forest in clusters numbering tens of thousands. The ordinarily green pine trees glow orange from the multitude of wings. In some areas of the forest, the butterflies can number 4 million per acre.

Hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies serve as tourist attractions in several colonial towns in Mexico. Experts believe the monarchs have been making this pilgrimage for 10,000 years, flying approximately 70 miles per day. But scientists did not discover their winter destination until 1975.

It takes two generations of monarchs to complete the roundtrip journey from the U.S. and Canada to Mexico and back.

One generation lives for up to nine months, making it as far as the southern U.S. on their journey back from Mexico. Their offspring reproduce there and make the rest of the journey north.

That second generation begins reproducing just three or four days after emerging as adults, and die within a month. A third and fourth generation make the next trip to Mexico.

Michoacan is home to five butterfly reserves, two of which are open to the public -- El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary and Sierra Chincua Butterfly Sanctuary.

During the four-month season, thousands of tourists travel each weekend to the El Rosario sanctuary, the larger of the two reserves, located between Zitacuaro and Angangueo.

The entrance fee is $2 per person and includes the services of an English-speaking guide. The sanctuary is open every day during the butterfly season.

Opened in 1997, the Sierra Chincua Butterfly Sanctuary is located near Angangueo, about 66 miles east of Morelia. Admission is $1, and visitors can take horseback tours of the rough trails.

The best time to visit the sanctuaries is in February, when Angangueo and neighboring Ocampo, Zitacuaro and Maravatio celebrate the monarch with the Festival de la Mariposa Monarca. The festival includes traditional dances, music and artisan markets.

Visitors who want to overnight in the area should consider the Hotel Albergue Don Bruno in Angangueo, at (011) 52-715 156-0026. In Zitacuaro, clients should consider the Villa Monarca Inn, at (011) 52-715 153-5346.

In Morelia, the 39-room Hotel Villa Montana offers commissionable tours (at 10%) to the sanctuaries. The eight-hour tours depart the hotel around 8 a.m. and cost $200 for up to four people in a chauffeured car and $300 for up to eight people in a chauffeured sport-utility vehicle.

For information or reservations, call (011) 52-443 314-0231, e-mail [email protected] or visit the Web at www.villamontana.com.mx.

More information on the butterflies or lodgings mentioned in this story can be obtained by calling (800) 44-MEXICO or by visiting www.visitmexico.com.

For additional information about the state of Michoacan, including its hotels and transportation to the butterfly sanctuaries, call the Morelia Tourist Office at (011) 52-443 317-2371.

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