The misguided migration of monarch butterflies to southern Appalachia in Flight Behavior is a fictional event, but Kingsolver grounds her theoretical occurrence in reality. As readers see through the character of Lupe, the Mexican wintering grounds of the monarch butterfly are damaged by drastic flooding and mudslides. This event is, sadly, entirely true.
In February 2010 the town of Angangueo, Mexico was devastated by floods and landslides. The damage caused the local economy to rely even more heavily on its butterfly-related tourism due to the extensive damage to the town's infrastructure, crop productions, and ability to farm cattle. Angangueo is located in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Biosphere Reserve is famous for the millions of monarchs who winter here every fall, but the species is very susceptible to environmental shifts and climate change, and in March 2012 the World Wildlife Fund estimated that that the number of monarch butterflies wintering in the reserve had dropped by nearly a third since 2011. Possible reasons include deforestation, logging, landslides, and the environmental impact of tourism.
Sustainable tourism or "ecotourism" is a key factor to the survival of the monarch butterflies' habitat. As Kingsolver shows in Flight Behavior, many people come to care greatly about ecology when they are confronted directly with environmental concerns. The more people who travel to Mexico to be awed by the natural beauty of the butterfly colonies, the more likely they are to care about maintaining a healthy planet for species like the monarch.
To learn more about the monarch's migration journey, click on the video, from the New York Times, below:
You can help track the monarch's migration by means of this iPhone app.
The town of Angangueo in Mexico, (picture from Monarchwatch.org), houses the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.
Picture of monarch butterfly by Sudheer Apte, Massachusetts Summer 2012.
This article was originally published in November 2012, and has been updated for the
June 2013 paperback release.
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