Monarch Butterflies Return to Santa Cruz

Monarch Butterfly, Lighthouse Field (1/15/06) © John Poimiroo

Another California Fall Color is embodied in the annual return of the Monarch Butterfly to the coast.  On Sunday, Oct. 14, the monarchs will be officially welcomed back to Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz, from 1 to 4 p.m.

Park visitors can participate in numerous activities including arts & crafts, active games for children, music by the 5M’s (the mostly mediocre musical monarch mariposas), feasting on hand-cranked ‘monarch’ ice cream (it’s really pumpkin), along with informational booths including “how-to’s” for creating a successful butterfly garden.  Kids and adults are encouraged to dress up in orange and black.  Join monarch man and monarch woman in the Monarch Parade, and meet the guests of honor:  the monarchs themselves.

Monarch Butterflies are famous for their striking beauty, and their multi-generational migration from western states to the California coast.  The monarchs head to Santa Cruz from states west of the Rocky Mountains.  The new arrivals are 4 to 5 generations removed from the butterflies that left Santa Cruz, last spring.  The overwintering population you see along the coast is the longest lived generation—surviving up to 9 months before they travel to spots north and east in search of milkweed.  There, the females lay their eggs only on the milkweed plants, the only thing caterpillars eat.  By injesting the toxins contained in milkweed plants, the monarchs become toxic to most predators.

The monarchs are seen clustering on eucalyptus, Monterey cypress and other trees for protection from wind and rain.  When the weather warms to above 55 degrees Fahrenheit, a burst of monarchs may flutter about in search of flower nectar and water. Natural Bridges State Beach is located at the end of West Cliff Drive at the north end of Santa Cruz.  Butterflies can also be seen at Lighthouse Field near the Santa Cruz Lighthouse.