Monarch Magic

Female Monarch Butterfly, Long Beach (11/27/20) © Steve Shinn

Late autumn is when Monarch magic happens along the California coast. From Presidio Park in San Diego north to Bodega Dunes in Sonoma County, Monarch butterflies establish their winter residences.

Monarch caterpillar and chrysalis, Long Beach (11/27/20) © Steve Shinn

Long Beach color spotter Steve Shinn photographed this lady as she emerged from her chrysalis at his home. Monarchs are amazing creatures. Some migrate as far as 1,000 miles.

California State Parks writes, “The journey is hazardous and many never make it. By November, most are sheltering in trees stretching from the San Francisco Bay Area south to San Diego. Pismo State Beach hosts one of the largest over wintering congregations, varying in numbers from 20,000 to 200,000. The winter monarchs live about six to eight months. On sunny winter days they will fly away from the sheltering trees, searching for nourishment in flower nectar and water to drink. In late February, as the weather turns warm, the great migration north begins.”

“After a flurry of mating, the female Monarchs fly north seeking milkweed plants where they must lay their eggs. Their job done, the winter Monarchs soon die. It would seem as though the migration had come to a halt before it even got under way. This though, is where it gets interesting. The eggs hatch after a few days and the tiny larvae voraciously begin eating milkweed leaves day and night. 

Monarch Butterflies, Santa Cruz (1/15/2006) © John Poimiroo

“Milkweed is the only food the larva can eat but it eats enough to increase its weight 2,700 times in just two weeks. This is equivalent to a human baby growing to the size of a gray whale in just two weeks. Once it’s eaten its fill, the full-grown caterpillar attaches itself to a solid object, sheds its skin, and forms a hard, green and gold colored outer skin, called a chrysalis. For the next two weeks inside the chrysalis, the fat, striped caterpillar rearranges its body’s molecules and then emerges as a beautiful orange and black Monarch butterfly.

“The new summer Monarchs continue to fly farther north, mating, laying their eggs on milkweed, then dying. The summer monarchs only live about 6–8 weeks but each new generation flies farther and farther north, following the growing milkweed. This cycle repeats itself 4–5 times throughout the summer. It is unknown how the successive generations of butterflies inherit the information needed to return to the over wintering sites but with the shortening days of October, the new winter generation of Monarchs does not mate and die but instead migrates south.”

Monarch butterfly populations are declining dangerously. Individuals can help by planting butterfly and pollinator gardens and encouraging the creation of monarch habitats in their communities. CLICK HERE to learn how you can help. To purchase Monarch Butterfly Seed Balls, CLICK HERE.

And, for guidance to places where you can see Monarchs near where you live, CLICK HERE.

  • Monarch Butterfly Migration, California Coast – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!