As the air begins to cool and the days grow shorter, iconic monarch butterflies arrive along the California coast.
By the thousands, the tiny little creatures flap their vibrant orange and black wings in unison as they find refuge from the cold for their long winter break. And it turns out that they choose many of the same destinations as us for our winter vacation.
This fall / winter is perhaps the most important time to visit butterflies and do all you can to help protect them for future generations.
Where do butterflies come from
According to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, there are two distinct populations of monarch butterflies in the United States: those that live east of the Rockies and those that live to the west. While those who live in the east usually migrate to Mexico for the winter, those who live in the west migrate to the coast of central and southern California.
“Migration is not a rare phenomenon,” explains the department. “In October, as colder weather approaches, the butterflies instinctively know they must fly south to escape the freezing temperatures. Some must travel over 1,000 miles. The journey is dangerous and many never do. . In November, most shelter in trees that stretch from the San Francisco Bay Area south to San Diego. “
Where they land
As the department notes, the butterfly landing area is quite extensive, however, there is one place in particular that the bugs seem to love: Pismo State Beach.
“[It] is home to one of the largest wintering congregations, ranging in number from 20,000 to 200,000, “the department said. Monarchs will live there another six to eight months. On the hottest days, they will fly off their trees. to find both food and water, before migrating north again around February.
Why Pismo? Because it turns out that it contains many eucalyptus trees, which the butterfly adores for its winter home. For the 2021/22 season, visitors can check out how many butterflies they can count at the Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove, which is open to the public during the day. The park also opens its Docent Trailer from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. so visitors can ask any questions they want, and they even offer daily lectures at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Accommodations nearby include the Vespera Resort, a charming beachfront hotel that will help you make the most of the great outdoors, and Inn at the Pier, a contemporary boutique inn that prides itself on personalized service. There is also an abundance of Airbnbs available, including this adorable bohemian bungalow located near the butterfly grove.
Why is it now time to see them
While you might be able to spot a good handful of butterflies now, just a few years ago you could spot them by the millions.
“Once, millions of monarchs wintered along the Pacific coast in California and Baja, Mexico – about 4.5 million in the 1980s. But by the mid-2010s, the population had declined by about 97%, ”explains the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. “As of 2018, monarch butterflies have experienced difficult seasons in their migration and breeding areas in the western states. Over the next two winters, the annual Xerces Western Monarch Thanksgiving tally showed that the population hit a new low: in 2018 and 2019, volunteers numbered fewer than 30,000 monarchs, less than 1% of historical size. Population. In 2020, the population fell again to less than 0.01% of historical size, volunteers numbered less than 2,000 monarchs.
And it’s not just something that harms people, but rather what scientists have said The Guardian is “one death by a thousand cuts”. This includes loss of terrestrial habitat, global warming, and increased use of herbicidal insecticides, which affects milkweed, the exclusive food source for monarch caterpillars.
In 2020, Xerces conducted a study that sampled 227 milkweed leaves from 19 sites representing different types of land use in the Central Valley of California. He found 64 pesticides (25 insecticides, 27 fungicides and 11 herbicides, plus an adjuvant) in the plants. Pesticides, he said in the study, “were detected in every sample, even at sites with little or no pesticide use based on information provided by landowners.” On average, he found nine compounds per plant at all sites.
“It’s really hard to determine exactly what is the thing that affects them the most,” said Claire Pavelka, a biologist working with the nonprofit River Partners. The Guardian. “They have been compared to a canary in a coal mine … Monarchs are so well studied; they are really charismatic and really well known. But the fact that they are declining so quickly is probably an indicator that a lot of other pollinators, as well as bees and other butterflies, are also in decline. “
How you can help
Although the situation is grim, scientists say there is still time to save this beautiful creature, and that there are ways to help young and old.
Monarch Joint Venture, an organization working for butterfly migration conservation, offered the following advice:
Create a habitat for pollinators by planting native milkweed and nectar plants in your garden.
Report sightings and sightings to monarch community science projects like the Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper, Journey North, and the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project.
Spread the word about the monarch’s decline and conservation opportunities by sharing things like this story and the studies above.
Support organizations working to protect Western monarchs like Monarch Joint Venture through donations or volunteering.
As for something even bigger, you can support the Center for Biological Diversity, which is working to add the monarch butterfly to the endangered species list and has called on Congress to “dramatically increase funding to $ 100 million. dollars per year “to help conserve the butterfly and its habitat.
“There were once so many butterflies that the sound of their wings was described as a rippling stream or a summer rain,” the center said. “Early newspaper descriptions described branches breaking under the weight of so many butterflies and described masses of monarchs as” the personification of happiness. ” Now it’s up to us to get that back.