City Cast

What Monarch Butterflies Mean to Día de los Muertos

Peyton Garcia
Peyton Garcia
Posted on October 31
A monarch butterfly perched on a flower

Monarchs' cultural tie to Día de los Muertos is just another reason to help protect these important pollinators. (Erin Minuskin / Unsplash)

Monarchs and Colorado

While not exclusive to Colorado, monarch butterflies do play a critical role in our Rocky Mountain ecosystem, which lies directly in the butterfly’s annual migration path. The monarch displays one of the most highly evolved migration patterns known of any pollinator species. They make their annual appearance in Colorado from June through September (so you won’t find them in the wild right now), but November marks a special time of year for the butterfly.

Día de los Muertos

What many people might not know is the monarch's cultural ties to Día de los Muertos. Every year, the monarch’s migration — which can cover nearly 3,000 miles and spans from Canada, through the Rockies, and into Mexico — brings them to Central Mexico right at the start of November. For generations, the arrival of the distinctive butterfly in the area this time of year is believed by natives to be the souls of ancestors and late loved ones passing through in this time of remembrance.

An Optimistic Future

While the migratory monarch butterfly is not listed under the USFWS Endangered Species Act,  the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classified it as “endangered” last summer. However, in a rare decision reversal just last month, the IUCN downgraded that classification to “vulnerable.” A researcher who challenged the conservation group’s listing said the IUCN committed a “scientific injustice” by ignoring data that shows the butterfly is actually doing really well — although the IUCN panel emphasizes that a “vulnerable” listing still indicates an elevated level of extinction risk.

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