By Monika Maeckle
I made myself a rule several years ago to stop running blindly after butterflies with my net. Too often I had done so, often in the Llano River, chasing Monarchs in the fall when they return to Mexico. Sometimes I would trip on a rock, slip on wet limestone and narrowly avert catastrophe in the middle of nowhere with the closest hospital hours away.
But the sight of a Blue Morpho, one of the most beautiful butterflies on the planet, languidly tracing a dirt road from the tropical canopy of the Sierra Madre mountains in Mexico this summer caused me to break my own rule. Running full speed while looking up, I chased the butterfly for about 500 feet before tripping on a fallen branch. Luckily I caught myself. We were many miles from medical assistance.
I gave my net to Cornelio Ramos Gabriel, our able nature guide. Within a half hour, Cornelio had nabbed a Morpho peleides, whose wingspan can reach eight inches and whose blue wing flashes have made the species a target of collectors in addition to its natural predators. We photographed the beauty and released her. Cornelio told me that the dreamy flyer is relatively common in these parts, along with its dramatic sister, the White Morpho. We saw several examples of both on our day trip to Finca Monte Carlo, a lovely coffee plantation in the Sierra Madre.
My five-day butterfly trip was the scheme of dear friend and fellow San Antonians Veronica Prida and Omar Rodriguez, the hosts of Casa Tulco, a fabulous nature retreat set in the ecofriendly tourist destination of Huatulco, Mexico.
Veronica and I have been butterfly buddies for years and she was kind enough to assemble a butterfly trip that included me, butterfly guide book author Kim Garwood, and birder/photographer Susan Hoffert. Cornelio and Mateo Merlin Sanchez worked hard as our guides, catering to our every whim as we made Casa Tulco our base. In the evenings, we lolled by the pool, recounted our adventures, and researched unknown finds as the entire Casa Tulco staff attended our need for margaritas, chilaquiles and wi-fi. It was a magnificent trip.
Our Blue Morpho outing took us on a two-hour spine-jangling, four-wheel drive jaunt up a dirt road that wound through tropical mountain forests and tracked a vibrant stream. We saw 117 species of butterflies in just 48 hours.
Kim seemed nonplussed each time Susan or I pointed out a new find, patiently identifying its common and Latin names, her capacity for recall a stunning reminder of my own frequent forgetfulness.
“That’s a Fine Line Hairstreak,” said Kim upon one of my inquiries. “He likes roadside edges.” Is that unusual? ”No.”
After a fruitful stop at a small cascada, or waterfall, where various Swallowtails and Sulphurs puddled and danced above the rushing water and an Owl butterfly hid in the thick underbrush, we arrived at Finca Monte Carlo. Our gracious host, Efren Ricardez Scherenberg, escorted us directly to a mature cycad palm where a cluster of Superb Cycadian butterflies had just pupated. The brown and black chrysalises, called capullos in Spanish, looked like designer chocolates from a high-end confectionary.
Efren explained that every year about this time the caterpillars and later chrysalises appeared, just for a short while. He believed they would hatch the following morning, but they did not. He graciously shared the photo above just two days after our departure.
Our sojourn into the surrounding tropical forest lead us down a lovely mountain trail where a roaring spring-fed creek spilled over rocks under a thick canopy. Birds were ubiquitous and insects in every stage of development invited photos and inspection. That evening, a storm sparked a power outage and the full moon provided our light as a freshly hatched Black Witch Moth settled into the kitchen allowing for close inspection with a flashlight.
The surrounding grounds, lush with tropical vegetation and shade grown coffee, offered its own extravaganza of bird and insect life. Mateo carried a spotting scope for close-ups, as Ulises, the sweet, very spoiled and friendly house cat, accompanied us on meanders through nearby Anthurium beds where dozens of enormous and varied bumblebees harvested pollen from the showy flowers’ spikes.
Interestingly, we also found some Tropical milkweed growing along the driveway’s edge. On it, several eggs–either Monarchs or Queens. Efren will let us know.