Leamington woman follows monarch butterfly migration to Mexico

A Leamington woman who raises monarch butterflies on her property has just returned from a trip of a lifetime in central Mexico, where the insects migrate during the winter months.
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      A Leamington woman who raises monarch butterflies on her property has just returned from a trip of a lifetime in central Mexico, where the insects migrate during the winter months.  

      Darlene Burgess flew to Mexico at the beginning of March where she visited four sanctuaries on the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. 

      She went to the first sanctuary on horseback, ascending into the mountains where she got her first sight of the butterflies. 

      "Once we got to the clearing where you could see...they were across from a ravine from us. It was a bit of a cloudy day and a little bit cool, there were quite a few fluttering about, but there were also many, many clustered in the trees and on the tree trunks," she says.

      "It's just amazing to watch, even the clusters. The massive, thick clusters of the monarch butterflies keeping each other warm."

      Burgess says she didn't see the bright colours at first, though there were millions of monarchs on the reserve. 

      "Because when they're clustered, their wings are closed so they're dark," she says. "You only see the colour when they're flying, but they're quite a distance from you so it's not the colour that catches your eye...but you're just in awe."

      One of her favourite experiences came on her very last day at the fourth sanctuary. 

      "Rode the horses high up into the mountain...the sky was just filled with orange butterflies flying all around...and there was everything going on," she describes. "There was everything going on. They were flitting about in the sky, they were landed in trees, there was mating everywhere. They were mating in the trees, they were mating in mid air."

      Burgess says she noticed that some of the monarchs on the reserve already starting to journey north. 

      "We don't know about northern Mexico if they're laying eggs, but we do know once they hit Texas they're laying eggs on milkweed and then they reach the end of their life span." 

      She says migrating monarchs typically live for about eight months. 

      "After they lay their eggs in Texas their life ends after that and then their children take over and it's about four generations to get back to Mexico," she says. 

      Raising monarchs in Leamington 

      It started off small, but Burgess managed to raise 350 monarch butterflies last summer. 

      She has a patch of about 200 milkweed plants on her property — the plant the butterflies feed and lay their eggs on.

      Burgess raises the insects from egg until they go through metamorphosis, and then releases them. 

      She says she's excited to see the first ones arrive from Mexico this year. 

      "It will be full circle for me when we see these ones come in June," she says. "That will be full, because the ones in Mexico had left here, laid eggs, and now it's their children coming. 

      I watch, I run down the street, if I see one chasing with my camera to show, they're here."

      Burgess posts her experiences and pictures on her Facebook page.