Save a place for the butterflies Insects: The governments of Mexico, the United States and Canada promise to help farmers in an area of Mexico where migratory monarch butterflies spend the winter.

Sun Journal

December 07, 1997

MORELIA, Mexico -- It's butterflies vs. farmers in this mountainous region of central Mexico.

Monarch butterflies spend their winters here after migrations of up to 3,000 miles from the United States and Canada. The migration is genetic, not learned: The butterflies that make the migration are the great- or great-great-grandchildren of those that made the same journey the year before. Nobody is sure how they find their way back.

The annual arrival of the black-and-gold insects triggers another migration -- of bus loads of tourists who come to see and photograph the butterflies.

But the migration -- of insects, not tourists -- may be "an endangered natural phenomenon," according to Lincoln Brower of the University of Florida, who has been studying monarchs since 1958. That is, the butterflies themselves are in no danger of disappearing, but habitat loss in Mexico may disrupt the migration pattern.

A 1986 Mexican decree set aside 150,000 acres as a butterfly reserve. But this restricted the amount of land available for agricultural use in an area already economically distressed by the exhaustion of local silver mines. Farmers have responded by cutting down forests adjacent to the butterfly reserve.

Officials of Mexico, the United States and Canada pledged last month to help 54 small farming communities. Helping the farmers, they said, would help the butterflies -- and protect a spectacular natural oddity linking all three countries.

Pub Date: 12/07/97

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