Miraculous Migration

The Monarchs are kings and queens
of orange and black.
They travel between Mexico
and North America—and back.
No single butterfly
makes the entire round trip.
Through generational changes they flip.

At the vernal equinox, the adults stir
with the northern journey in mind.
From oyamel trunks in Michoacan state
they leave Mexico behind.
How they navigate is still a mystery.
It may be magnetic fields they heed,
or solar signals that they read.

They summer in a familiar milkweed field,
the eggs are laid on the leaf.
The caterpillar eats like a hungry beast,
and gorges beyond belief.
The milkweed’s poison sap will protect him.
His bold stripes are black, white and yellow;
but birds won’t eat this toxic fellow.

With two black filaments at each end
he is both ravenous and bold.
Eating continuously in his lifespan,
he will burst when fat and old.
His fate is to eat until this change
to something that is more lean—
a chrysalis of jade green.

On the abdomen a band of black and gold.
This stage is a Monarch’s royal enclosure.
A decorative line on thorax and head,
marked with spots of black gold and silver.
This art object of sculpted symmetry
doesn’t last long—but splits to show
the black-veined wings of the imago.

To liberate the crumpled folds
the Monarch pumps its wings,
to reveal a black-veined orange silk,
and fly towards a mating.
The Monarch butterfly resplendent,
Danaus plexippus is its name,
and it will play the mating game.

In this metamorphic cycle
of egg, larva, pupa, adult,
the last  generation summer born
is non-reproductive as a result.
This stage is called the diapause,
and may last seven months or more
so they may reach Mexico’s door.

On the journey they need extra fuel
and glutton goldenrod nectar.
They wait for the relevant winds,
and fly in a cloud spectacular.
Back to the trans-volcanic range,
some will die as they jet stream their way.
A migration route nature makes them obey.

The Monarchs always winter in Mexico,
but the site was an unknown place
until discovered in 1975;
a secret no longer—their base.
There they coat the oyamel trunks
with a scaly bark imitation.
A camouflage for hibernation.

In 2001 the Monarchs were massacred
by loggers with a pesticide spray.
They hoped to grab the protected forest
when the butterflies had died away.
Twenty-two million corpses chemically murdered—
what can we do but mourn?
And track how many are born.

Ignorant carnage for economic greed.
The loggers knew that site was protected.
They hoped that with the butterflies gone
they could log those trees as expected.
Biologists would not give in.
The evil plan was defeated.
The Monarchs were only depleted.

From their North American summer
the Monarchs returned in November.
Maybe only the strongest had survived,
their winter home to remember.
More bad news for the butterflies.
A winter storm would unseasonably brew
and kill many in March 2002.

Biologists could only count and wait.
Deaths were as high as eighty percent.
Maybe the genes of the previous survivors,
would overcome yet another descent?
The Monarchs are still flying,
although they have suffered much erosion,
they still make an orange skyward explosion.