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Here’s Where to See California’s Monarch Butterflies Right Now | Visit California

Here’s Where to See California’s Monarch Butterflies Right Now

The intrepid orange-and-black flyer is showing up at wintering sites along the coast

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Posted 7 months agoby Ann Marie Brown

Every fourth-grader learns about the western monarch butterfly's amazing migration from Canada to the temperate California coast. But in recent years, schoolkids have also learned that the exquisite orange-and-black butterfly's population has declined by 99.9 percent—and scientists are scrambling to understand why.

This month, butterfly fans are hearing glimmers of good news. Several California overwintering sites—places where the delicate insects spend the cool months in protected forest groves before continuing their journeys—are seeing large numbers of monarchs almost a month earlier than normal.

Volunteers at Pismo State Beach's grove tallied about 8,000 monarchs on October 20.

Near Monterey, researchers at Pacific Grove's butterfly grove counted 2,593 monarchs on October 21. Last year, both sites hosted fewer than 300 monarchs.

"Western monarchs are showing up along the California coast in greater numbers than last year’s historic low," writes conservation biologist Emma Pelton in a Xerces Society blog.

Monarch butterflies usually arrive at overwintering sites in November and stay through February, with their numbers peaking between Thanksgiving and Christmas. They prefer central and southern California's warm, mild winters and don't fare well at temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Monarchs tend to cluster in groves of eucalyptus, Monterey cypress, or Monterey pines because the trees act as a blanket and umbrella during winter storms.

Along with Pismo Beach and Pacific Grove, California locations that historically have hosted spectacular monarch gatherings include Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz and the Coronado Butterfly Preserve at Goleta's Ellwood Mesa Open Space. Monarchs have also been spotted at Bodega Dunes Campground in Bodega Bay and Ventura County's Point Mugu State Park.

As recently as 2016, researchers at some sites reported monarch butterflies numbering in the tens of thousands. But in the last few years, they found only a few hundred—or even zero. Biologists believe the monarchs' extreme population decline has been caused by loss of habitat and pesticide use.

A more complete picture of this year's numbers will be available after the annual Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count, which takes place November 13 to December 5.

Want to help out these beautiful, elegant insects? There's much you can do, from planting native milkweed and nectar plants in your yard to reporting monarch sightings on the Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper website. Check out these tips from the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, learn about the Western Monarch Call to Action, and download the Xerces Society's how-you-can-help brochure.

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