Chasing Monarchs - a new perspective

MexicoDoug at MexicoDoug at
Thu Aug 4 18:36:53 EDT 2005

Crew to Track Monarch Butterflies

Aug 4, 3:48 AM (ET)

(AP) Francisco "Vico" Gutierrez, second from left, stands with  assistants 
and sponsors around his...

MEXICO CITY (AP) - The annual  arrival of millions of Monarch butterflies 
from the forests of eastern Canada to  the central Mexican mountains for the 
winter is an aesthetic and scientific  wonder. And this year, they won't be flying 
A crew of two plans to  accompany the butterflies on their 3,415 mile-journey 
while riding in an  oversized hang-glider painted with giant versions of the 
orange, black and white  wings of the Monarch. 

Their aim is to raise awareness about the need to better conserve the  
Monarchs' fragile habitats. Illegal logging is thinning and toppling the fir  
forests west of Mexico City that protect the butterflies from rain and cold. 

Mexican pilot Francisco "Vico" Gutierrez and a crew including other  pilots 
from Canada, the United States and Mexico plan to leave Quebec on Aug. 15  for 
the trip. The journey should produce a documentary, and a photographer or  
cameraman will accompany Gutierrez or other pilots on board, while the rest of  
the team follows in a van. 

"I'm really content, really excited," said  Gutierrez, watching as crew 
members assembled the 400-pound, 34-by-8-foot plane  in a crowded park in Mexico 
The ultra-light plane, which will be  propelled by a tiny motor, will track 
every part of the winter migration. The  route will take them to Montreal and 
Toronto in Canada and south across the  United States with stops at Niagara 
Falls, N.Y.; New York City; Washington D.C.;  Lawrence, Kan.; Oklahoma City; 
Austin, Texas; and Eagle Pass on the Mexican  border. 
The trip is scheduled to an end on Nov. 2, in Valle Del Bravo, close  to the 
forests where the butterflies winter in Michoacan state. It is sponsored  by 
the World Wildlife Fund of Mexico, the government of Michoacan and Gutierrez  

The project is dubbed Papalotzin, a word from the ancient Nahuatl  language 
spoken by the Aztecs that roughly translates to small butterfly. 

Carlos Galindo, forest director for the World Wildlife Fund in Mexico,  said 
no one has followed the butterflies in the air for their entire  
transcontinental journey. Doing so can teach scientists how they cope with  changing wind 
patterns, temperature shifts and difficult weather, he said.  
It is also unclear, for instance, at what altitude the butterflies cruise  
and why those migrating have a life span of eight months while generations that  
come before and after the trip live only about a month, he said. But that  
knowledge is not the primary goal of the mission. 
"The object of this trip  is not a scientific one, it's a trip aimed to 
increase awareness," Galindo said. 

The aircraft is equipped with a small 80-horsepower engine. That is  more 
than enough to keep up with the butterflies, who travel between 60 and 95  miles 
daily at average speeds of 12 mph before landing to rest, Gutierrez said. 

He plans to pilot the plane about five times faster than the rate of  the 
butterflies, but only travel the daily distances they travel. 


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