Migrating monarchs spend the winter in a number of California coastal communities.
The little winged creatures nestle in the Eucalyptus and tall Monterey Pine trees. They cluster together to stay warm and protect themselves from the cold rains, as they arrive shortly before the rainy season begins.
Forming tightly knit clusters also prevents the butterflies from being blown away by winds. If you look up at the trees, the monarchs appear as little brown leaves.
Some communities have set aside special butterfly sanctuaries for their winter visitors, which stay from October through March before heading home to Canada.
Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula has a special location for the guests, as does Pismo Beach, which is halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Pismo Beach bills itself as the ‘World’s Most Popular Monarch Butterfly Grove’ and Pacific Grove calls itself ‘Butterfly Town USA.’
In both communities, the tourist trade is partially dependent upon the butterflies, and in Pacific Grove, a number of commercial establishments are named after the monarchs. There is also a Museum of Natural History with a permanent butterfly exhibit.
In Pismo Beach, you’ll find Monarch Grove, located right near the ocean. This sanctuary is staffed by volunteers who answer questions for its many visitors.
The volunteers also do the seemingly impossible task of counting the insects. It is estimated that about 25,000 butterflies have landed there each winter for the past few years. This is sharply down from a high of 230,000 during the winter of 1990-1991.
Why these creatures return to the same spot every year is a mystery. Because this variety of monarch only lives about six months, it’s always a new crop of visitors, which makes it all the more unexplainable.
Fun Monarch Facts
- Monarchs live throughout North America. You will find them where ever milkweed grows. Their larvae are nourished primarily by juice from the milkweed plant.
- Most monarchs live only two to six weeks. The monarchs that roost in California live longer.
- Female monarchs lay about 500 eggs during their life cycle.
- If you plant milkweed around your home, you can start your own monarch sanctuary.