They swirl, flutter, and dance to the delight of the human eye. The Monarch butterfly is in all its glory at the Monarch Grove in Pismo Beach from October through February.
The Monarch butterfly migrates from the north to California to seek shelter from the cold and freezing weather. Five coastal sites in the state see well over 10,000 butterflies flapping their orange and black wings every year. Depending on the weather, you will see hundreds of butterflies clustering in Eucalyptus trees. One site, Pismo State Beach Monarch Grove, represents one of the most popular sites to observe the butterfly’s winter haunt.
Visiting the Grove is one of those natural wonders that one should not miss. Whether you are a butterfly lover, nature buff, or just like to do something different, you will be wowed by the beauty of this winter habitat for butterflies.
Also known as the Danaus Plexippus, the Monarch butterfly typically lives for 6 to 8 weeks, but when they migrate from the north, their lifespan lasts from six to eight months. They are distinguished by their orange wings covered with black lines and white dots.
In the United States, there are two types of monarch butterflies, the eastern and western butterflies. The eastern monarch migrates from Canada to central Mexico, covering about 3000 miles. The western monarch transverse along the pacific coast about 300 miles. It is thought that the western monarchs have smaller forewings due to the distance they fly during migration. Each year, the journey is always the same, especially since the butterflies cannot cross the Rockies or the Sierra Nevada Mountains because of the cold temperatures at high elevations.
The difference between the male and female monarch is that the males are slightly larger and have a black spot on their hindwing and thinner wing veins.
What Is In A Name
The story has it that the Monarch is named after King William III of England because he was known as the Prince of Orange.
The Life Cycle
There are four stages to the Monarch butterfly’s life. It begins with the egg lasting 4 to 6 days, moving on to the larvae or caterpillar, which lasts two to three weeks, followed by the pupa or chrysalis, a 5 to 15-day time frame, and finally the adult butterfly. The latter lasts two to five weeks in the summer but can be six to eight months during winter.
While in the Monarch Grove, the butterflies mate as they get closer to spring. The males eventually die off. The female butterfly flies off to lay her eggs and begin the cycle again as the weather warms up. The females lay their eggs during spring and summer in milkweed. The female can lay hundreds of eggs.
Pismo Beach Monarch Grove
One must wonder why the butterflies return each year to the exact location. It is the debris they leave behind. Their waste is like a beckon attracting a new herd every year. It is this signal that delights all who visit the grove of Eucalyptus in Pismo Beach. Everyone walks through the grove with their heads angled upward so as not to miss a flutter from above. The flicker of orange and black is everywhere as you hope one will land so you can get a close-up view.
Often the butterflies form dense clusters, with each one hanging with its wing down over the one below, creating a shingle effect. This formation provides shelter from the rain and warmth for the group. The weight of the cluster help keeps it from whipping in the wind and dislodging the butterflies.
The quiet awe that permeates the grove draws one in as the star of the show; the Monarch butterfly presents itself. Even a visiting cat is mesmerized by the movement of the wings above.
This is an excerpt from an article I wrote for Wander With Wonder.