Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A good rule of thumb: Any time you go to observe nature, bring binoculars

Did you know we have a national insect? (I know Keith and Jeffrey probably did, but other people with normal sized brains?) Well, I didn't. I have no idea why we need one, but I guess if we're going to have one, the monarch is a worthy recipient of the title. Monarchs may not seem real sexy to the casual observer, but I'm here to tell you that they're hot! Monarchs have a pretty amazing life cycle. For example, Monarchs from the Northern Rocky mountains migrate south to Mexico each year where they inhabit no more than a 70 square mile area for the winter. The migration cycle is longer than the butterflies life span, so somehow their tiny little bug brains have to hold the navigation information in such a way that it can be passed on to future generations so they can complete the round trip.

This winter Christa and I decided to escape our respective tundras and travel down to Mexico to observe the hibernating butterflies in the Michoacan state. Neither of us are really butterfly buffs or naturalists of any sort, but we were both incredibly impressed with the experience. It was definitely worth the three and a half day trip it took us to get there (no joke!). When we were there we met a guy who loves Monarchs so much, he got his PhD in Monarch life cycles. He now works at the Smithsonian, but he comes back to Mexico each winter to lead nature tours of the Monarch sanctuaries. How cool are you sir?

This picture shows the butterflies all clumped onto tree branches where they are hibernating. (If one did not bring binoculars one might have missed this). Monarch watching wasn't all we did though. During our week long hiatus from our husbands, we also managed to hike a volcano, visit a colonial city, and sip pina coladas poolside before heading out to the sand for some volleyball. (Another rule of thumb: when hiking volcanoes in Mexico, don't tell your guide you're pregnant unless you really want to freak him out.) Mom and baby did great, and we're already planning our next sunny vacation.