Butterflies of Mexico and the Day of the Dead

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“If we fly by your side, avoid chasing us away, we are fragile and you may harm us.”

“Si pasamos a un lado tuyo, evita espantarnos, somos fragiles y nos puedes lastimar.”

This beautiful sentence touched my heart while walking through the butterfly enclosure at Xcaret, an enormous ‘eco fun park’ on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, close to the famous beaches of Playa Del Carmen and Cancun.

Butterflies hold a special place in the hearts of the Mexican people. In one of the great migrations of the animal kingdom, at the end of October every year, up to a billion orange and black Monarch Butterflies undertake a four thousand kilometre journey from Eastern Canada to the forests of western central Mexico. They arrive at the Reserva de las Biosfera Mariposa Monarca, (the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve) to begin their five month winter hibernation in the tree tops, some thirty metres above the forest floor in the oak and evergreen trees.

Their arrival in late October coincides with Mexico’s most important national holiday, Dia de los Muertas; the Day of the Dead, on the 2nd of November. According to Mexican folklore, many people believe the butterflies are the souls of their departed relatives who return to be with their families around this special national holiday.

As the name suggests, Day of the Dead celebrations remember and honour the lives of the dead. Mexican families often spend the day picnicking in the cemetery by the gravesites of their loved ones. Sometimes their dead family members’ favourite foods are placed alongside the grave. In the city of Campeche, the government has even granted permission for some families to exhume the bones to allow them to be cleaned before being returned to their burial site.

I love the idea that the cycle of life and death plays an important role in the rich Mexican culture. If you think back to the beautiful butterflies, one of nature’s most evolved insects, their four-stage life cycle; from egg to larvae to cocoon and finally the metamorphosis into a butterfly is an incredible example of nature’s infinite intelligence. Both male and female butterflies die soon after mating, the female once she has laid her eggs, having done what she was placed on this earth to do.

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