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The Relationship Between the Monarch Butterfly and Day of the Dead

monarch butterfly migration

The Monarch butterfly and its annual migration to Mexico have become uniquely intertwined with the celebration of the Day of the Dead and the indigenous heritage of the country. This symbolic connection between butterflies and the spirits of the deceased adds a deep spiritual and emotional dimension to one of Mexico’s most emblematic festivities, reminding us of the importance of nature, culture, and the connection between life and death.

Day of the Dead is one of Mexico’s most iconic celebrations, observed with devotion and joy to honor loved ones who have passed away. This ancient celebration, with its roots in pre-Columbian indigenous civilizations, has established a bridge between the world of the living and the realm of the departed, and in this connection, the Monarch butterfly plays a uniquely significant role.

Close up shot of multiple monarch butterflies feeding from clusters of yellow flowers.

The Monarch Butterfly and Its Migration


The Monarch butterfly, scientifically known as Danaus plexippus, is a species that undertakes one of the most astonishing migrations in nature. These butterflies travel thousands of kilometers from Canada and the United States to the oyamel forests in Mexico during the autumn. This natural phenomenon has amazed scientists and nature enthusiasts for generations.

The Monarch as a Messenger of



In the cosmology of many indigenous cultures in Mexico, butterflies were considered as the souls of the deceased returning to visit their loved ones on Earth during Day of the Dead. For the Aztecs, these winged creatures were associated with Mictecacihuatl, the goddess of the underworld and protector of the dead. This belief established a profound symbolic connection between butterflies and the transition between life and death.

The Arrival of Monarch



The coincidence of the Monarch butterfly migration with Day of the Dead is striking. These butterflies arrive in the oyamel forests of Mexico in late October and early November, precisely when the Day of the Dead festivities take place. Indigenous communities that have inhabited these regions for centuries have seen this arrival as a symbol of spirits returning home.


Rituals and Offerings


During Day of the Dead celebrations, altars or “ofrendas” are built in homes and cemeteries to honor the deceased. These offerings typically include items believed to attract the souls of the departed, such as flowers, candles, photographs, and personal belongings. Monarch butterflies have become an important element in these offerings, as they are believed to guide the souls of the deceased back to the Earth.


Conservation and Respect


The Monarch butterfly and its connection to Day of the Dead also carry a crucial conservation component. Preserving the oyamel forests where the butterflies spend the winter is essential for ensuring the survival of this species. Conservation efforts have raised awareness about the importance of protecting these forests, not only for their ecological value but also for their cultural and spiritual significance.