Migrating souls: Monarch butterflies arrive in time for Day of the Dead

MISSION — The Aztecs called her Quetzalpapalotl, or sacred butterfly, and millions of them arrive every year just in time for Mexico’s oldest celebration, Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, which is observed today throughout Latin America.

Much like the Aztecs who awaited the arrival of the sacred butterfly, believed to embody the souls of those they’ve lost, families today build altars with photos, mementos and the deceased’s favorite foods, waiting to reunite on Nov. 1 and 2.

The Monarch

The monarch butterfly, known for its elegant black, orange and white spotted wings, is the only butterfly that can live up to nine months. During that time they make a transcontinental journey across Canada, the United States and Mexico, riding the winds some 300 to 400 feet high, flying over borders until they reach the pine and fir forests they’ve hibernated in for thousands of years.

The Rio Grande Valley and Tamaulipas are in the middle of the butterflies’ central U.S. highway, one of three migratory paths used by the Monarchs in the fall and again in the spring when they fly back north, according to Marianna Treviño Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center.

“ The fact that butterflies effectively die — they go into the chrysalis, which is like into the tomb or the grave and they have this metamorphosis and they emerge a completely new creature — it’s a metaphor for many spiritual belief systems,” Wright said Monday as she bid farewell to the last of this year’s Texas Butterfly Festival attendees.

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