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Old Baldy, Canada | photo by Cameron Schaus
Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county

Learn about Monarch butterflies

December 2011

This year promises to be a record year for Monarch butterflies arriving in California this winter, and there are several spots on the Central Coast where members can see large swarms of them clustered in trees. In the sun, their colorful orange wings make a lively display.

The Monarchs started to arrive in October to areas in Santa Cruz and Pacific Grove. Each winter, about 20-30,000 monarch butterflies cluster together on the pines and eucalyptus of the Monarch Grove Sanctuary in Pacific Grove. Docents at the Sanctuary have counted over 13,000 butterflies so far this year. Adult Monarchs mate here until February and those that survive join the spring migration to find milkweed species on which to lay their eggs and repopulate inland regions.

Three to four generations of egg laying, caterpillar hatching, and metamorphosis occur during the year, with each generation spreading farther from the coast before returning the next winter.

It is not known precisely why there are fluctuations in populations from year to year, but as the butterflies need milkweed to lay their eggs, reduction in these plants because of climate, increased pesticide use, and other factors can cause change. Last year brought more rain than usual to the central coast and could be a factor in the increase of monarchs this year.

To celebrate these fabulous creatures, the Chapter is holding an event on January 22 from 2-4 at the Pacific Grove Natural History Museum in Pacific Grove. Our speaker will be docent Jack Beigle who will give an informative talk about the Monarch butterflies. The event is free to Chapter members.

The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History is located at the corner of Central Ave. and Forest Ave. in Pacific Grove. The nearby monarch sanctuary is located off Ridge Road and will be open all day. Check the museum's website: for directions and more information about the sanctuary.

If you wish to see Monarch butterflies this winter, below are a few local viewing areas. Be sure to bring binoculars. Monarchs cluster 20 feet or more off the ground.

Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz. Directions: Take Swift Avenue west from Mission Street or follow West Cliff Drive north until it ends at Natural Bridges. There is a day-use vehicle park fee.

Lighthouse Field, Santa Cruz. This area forms the northern boundary of Monterey Bay. Directions: Lighthouse Field is on West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz across from the Santa Cruz Lighthouse.

Monarch Grove Sanctuary, Pacific Grove. Directions: The Sanctuary is located on Ridge Road, one block west of the intersection of Lighthouse Avenue and 17 Mile Drive. Parking is available at the entrance.

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