An Adventure that will live on in your Memory... Collecting Butterflies in 

DID LAST YEAR’S butterfly collecting seem more drab than usual? Did you find that most of the specimens of butterflies that you collected were the same ones that you had taken many times before? Have you ever found yourself yearning for some exotically different butterfly collecting ground? If so, I have the perfect answer for you — try collecting butterflies in Mexico!

      You will find Mexico, with its magnificent scenery, exotic foods, and foreign customs, a tonic for your spirits. But Mexico is, of course, a foreign country; and if you should be planning to go there I should like to pass along a few tips which will make your trip more enjoyable and productive from the butterfly collecting point of view.

      Mexico, while contiguous to the United States, has a vastly different climate from ours. And while we have four distinct seasons, Mexico has only two—a dry season and a wet one; and they are just that. In the dry season it literally does not rain a drop for months on end. In contrast, during the wet season it rains every day, particularly during the afternoons. Mexico’s dry season corresponds to our winter season and this is precisely the time not to go to Mexico if you are in hopes of collecting any butterflies. The dry season extends from October to April and in this period it does not even sprinkle on the parched earth. By March the mountains are powdery dry, the trees have dropped most of their leaves and even the cacti look wilted. Needless to say there are few flowers in bloom, and fewer butterflies.

     Despite the fact that much of Mexico lies within the tropics it can get some of our own frigid winter blasts, as it did last year, which have a devastating effect on the native plants and insects. In January, 1962, Vera Cruz experienced eight straight days of subfreezing temperatures which killed the banyan trees right to the ground. Such freezes deplete butterfly populations too, but they recover faster than do the banyan trees. I saw mile upon mile of dead citrus trees, palms, and royal poincianas — so it can and does get really cold down there.

     But the rainy season commences in April or early May and extends until September. The very best time to go to Mexico for butterflies is during August, September and October. Where you go in Mexico will have something to do with the success of your trip as well as when. Remember that the farther south you go in Mexico the better the butterfly collecting will become. If you visit only that part of Mexico which is adjacent to the United States border, you will not only see Mexico at its very worst, but will catch virtually nothing so far as butterflies go. When I speak of visiting Mexico I don’t mean just to cross the border, take a quick look, and scurry home. Yet most tourists do exactly that — and go no farther. This is tragic, for they really haven’t seen Mexico at all — not the real Mexico, which can be seen only by traveling deep within its rug­gedly beautiful interior.

     When you visit Mexico your entry points will likely be either Brownsville or Laredo, Texas, on the international border. Be sure to take out an insurance policy at the border with a Mexi­can company. Your stateside automobile insurance won’t mean a thing in Mexico if you get in any sort of trouble, for our Latin friends do not recognize any North American companies, que lastima! So I would suggest that you take out a Mexican policy at either Brownsville or Laredo — it costs only seven dollars and is worth it. This way you will be insured for probably as long a time as you care to stay in Mexico, for the policy does not expire for thirty days and you can renew it for a longer period at a small extra cost should you wish to stay in Mexico longer.

     There is no difficulty whatever in crossing the border. All you need is a tourist card which you can obtain at the border. You must tell the number of days or weeks that you plan on visiting Mexico, as this will be stamped on your card; and you must return before this date ex­pires. You will have to show proof of American citizenship before you enter Mexico, but a poll tax receipt will do as well as anything. You must have your car title to show them, too, and make a written promise not to sell the car while in Mexico; but this is no problem either. Now while you may enter Mexico without taking your small pox shot, you won’t be able to return to the States without showing proof that you have been so immunized within the past three years; so if you have no shot you can expect to get a free one on re-entering, and you’ll get one too — the American guards don’t overlook anyone!

     But your entire border crossing won’t take a half hour of your time; and while the Mexican customs guards will glance over your luggage, they are very lax on what you bring in — it’s what you bring back with you that they are most apt to be fussy about. And they’re not fussy about the same things as the Americans are. For some reason Mexican customs are extremely care­ful not to let native art, artifacts, sculpture or paintings out of Mexico. I was advised to leave all of my butterfly paintings on the United States side of the border until I returned, for it was likely that Mexico would seize them on returning past their customs! I didn’t take the chance; I left them in Brownsville.

     But the instant you cross the border you will be entering a different world — for despite the closeness of Mexico to the United States the Mexican countryside retains characteristics that have stubbornly resisted change for a hundred years. Yet contrary to what you might have heard, Mexicans are friendly people and will quickly help you if you have any sort of difficulty.

     The biggest headaches I found in Mexico were the gasolines — their motor fuels just aren’t made for Detroit cars or vice-versa. Their most expensive gasolines are poorer than our cheapest brands. The dirt in their gasolines clogs up the line in the engine, and chokes off the fuel to the fuel pump, or “bomba” as they call it down there. I found it necessary to keep the line cleaned out every 500 miles — luckily there are ample garage mechanics who can do this.

FOR THE GOOD butterfly collecting grounds you will have to go at least 400 miles south of the border to even begin to reach the more productive areas. Their system of mileage was something I was never able to figure out and I was at a continual loss to estimate the distance between one city and another, as Mexico uses the metric system. If you approach from Brownsville, the first important city you will reach will be Ciudad Victoria, capital city of the state of Tamaulipas. By continuing on south you will cross the Tropic of Cancer at Jaumave, and at every mile you will notice more and more butterflies which often take the attention of even the disinterested tourist. At Ciudad Mante you will be at the very foot of the Sierra Madre Oriental range. Just south of Ciudad Mante the highway divides — one route goes to Tampico on the coast; the other veers southwest into the mountains towards Mexico City. Be sure to choose the latter route for best butterfly collecting. This route takes you to Nuevo Morelos and Ciudad Valles, and there is good butterfly collecting all the way from here down to Tamasunchale.

     In this area you will be on the northern edge of the true tropics and you will be fascinated with the abrupt change of the fauna. You will see whole mountainsides covered with palms and other exotic trees. While you are in this area be sure to spend a day or so at “El Salto”, which means dropoff — and that’s just what it is, a fabulously beautiful waterfall that plunges two thous­and feet over a cataract that flows into a narrow gorge below. The roar of the falls can be heard miles away and the spectacle is one of Mexico’s most impressive sights. You can reach the falls by turning west at Nuevo Morelos and taking the highway that leads to San Luis Potosi. There is a dirt road that turns off the highway that leads directly to the falls. This is a good butterfly collecting spot — one of the best in Mexico. Some of the butterflies that are taken here are Anaea portia, Anartia fatima, Papilio philolaus, P. cresphontes, Anteos clorinde and A. maerula. A beautiful blue Morpho butterfly is also taken here during proper season.

     Along the mountain roads between Nuevo Morelos and San Luis Potosi there are many good butterfly collecting spots, and different species of butterflies appear as different elevations are reached. You will take many of the common but beautiful purple winged butterfly, Myscelia ethusa, as it glides serenely across the road from the underbrush. Also you will see the Calico Butterfly, Ageronia fornax, dart about trees here and there; but to net one is difficult. The beautiful pearly green Malachite Butterfly, Metamorpha steneles is another species that is frequently seen in the wooded mountain areas.

      Throughout this area you will see many sulfur butterflies everywhere. Some are the same as ours back home such as the Cloudless Yellow, Phoebis eubule, and the Sleepy Yellow, Eurema nicippe; but others are quite different, such as the Tailed Sulfur, Eurema gundlachianus. Just about every mile of the way you will see the lovely Red Barred Sulfur, Phoebis philea, but their fleet flight renders them immunity from your net unless you land a lucky stroke for one as it momentarily visits a blossom.

       Don’t expect to make as good travel time on Mexican highways as you are accustomed to doing back in the States; not that their highways aren’t good roads — they are; but everywhere you go in Mexico there is the problem of goats, sheep, and cattle on the highways. Most of Mexico is unfenced and you can wreck your car if you hit one of these animals. The horn helps!

R EMEMBER that Mexican life moves at a relaxed pace; nobody hurries and no matter what town you may happen to be in you will discover that every night is Saturday night in the town square — the music and dancing continue until morning! You may not sleep well the first night but after a night or two of it you’ll get used to it. Actually, I envy them and think it’s a wonderful way to live. I still don’t see how our Mexican friends can dance all night and still go to work the next day, but they manage to!

     Despite the ever-increasing waves of North American tourists, the average Mexican cannot speak a word of English; and while you can get by in Mexico without knowing any Spanish you will have vastly more fun if you learn as much of their language as you possibly can. You will discover that no single thing you can do will win you so quickly and completely the heart of the Mexican than trying to talk to him in his own tongue. But I must warn you that whatever Spanish you thought you learned in high school, it isn’t quite the same language that they speak here the Mexicans have a brand of Spanish of their very own that no Madrileño ever heard of! Yet if you will converse every day with as many Mexicans as you can for five days straight, you’ll surprise yourself to find how easy it is to learn their language; and you’ll learn things about Mexican people that you’ll never learn in any other way. And as you know the people better, you’ll like them and Mexico much more.

     Today there are American owned motels in every fair sized town the length and breadth of Mexico that will cater to every whim of the North American tourist. A dollar and a quarter buys you an excellent filet mignon with salad, several vegetables, exotic fruits and dessert. Don’t pass up their native chocolate ice cream — there is nothing quite so delicious! You will be pleased to discover that your American dollar stretches far indeed in Mexico — the rate is twelve and a half to one — so even on a modest budget you can go anywhere first class in Mexico and enjoy yourself immensely. Keep in mind, too, that there are no bothersome restricted parks in Mexico; you can collect butterflies anywhere! And no matter how many specimens you catch you can bring every one of them back to the States with you when you leave this fascinating country. But if you stay in Mexico for seven days you will find yourself not wanting to leave. The lush scenery, delicious foods, and interesting friendly people combine to cast their spell — it is easy to succumb to their easy going way of life. But if you must leave you will someday yearn for the day when you can return to the land of the prickly pear and coconut palms.

Copied with permission from:

Our Butterflies and Moths


by William H. Howe.

With Twenty-five Water-color Paintings and Seventy Black and White
Wash Illustrations by the Author-Artist.



This publication (208 pp.) is available by contacting the author:

William H. Howe
822 E. 11th St., 
Ottawa, Kansas 66067

Howe's first publication from 1963, Our Butterflies and Moths. These beautiful books with lithograph on canvas covers and vibrant color plates are in mint condition and will be autographed by the author, along with any personal notes that you would like him to add. Please note that these books do not have an ISBN number and are not available from booksellers. $20.00 USD, includes shipping.

December 14, 2004 - Mike Quinn / / Texas Entomology