The Mighty Monarchs

Monday, November 21st, 2011

monarch_butterflies_on_eucalyptus_at_pismo_1Pismo Beach hosts the largest Monarch colony in the U.S.

Monarch butterflies make one of the most incredible journeys from as far away as Canada, across the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada range to winter in balmy Pismo Beach.  In late spring they take wing again and head back north and during the trip mating occurs. Several generations are born and die before a return trek is made.

A Monarch’s life span is short – about nine months. Some of the great-great-great grandchildren of the butterflies that are at Pismo Beach now will return next fall. Monarchs are well known as long distance travelers and cover up to 265 miles a day on their journeys. Some travel as much as 1000 miles to reach their destination.

It’s a mystery to scientists why the Monarchs return to the same wintering sites, but this Pismo location has become the largest colony of Monarch butterflies in the country.

While population figures fluctuate and have decreased from historical times, an average 75,000 butterflies come to Pismo each year. Recent years have seen only 23,000 compared to 230,000 in 1990-91.

This decline in numbers is of concern to the scientific community and special tagging programs have been carried out for years now to study the butterflies.
In the grove you will see clumps of insects suspended like Japanese lanterns from the branches of the trees. They look like paper grocery bags hanging with only the underside of their wings showing.

Every now and then a flash of bright orange and black will show as one butterfly in the group will flex his wings.  Once warmed by the sun the colorful insects often burst out all at once in a massive flight of hundreds of wings.

The Central Coast Natural History Association has a docent trailer on site and volunteers docents are on hand every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Special talks explaining the life cycle of the Monarchs are held at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

At the trailer you can purchase postcards, t-shirts, jewelry, educational books and brochures and many other butterfly souvenirs.

A visit to the Central Coast at this time is not complete without a stop at the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove.

Go see the butterflies

To reach the grove from U.S. 101 exit at Price Street in Pismo Beach. Travel north on Price for 25 yards to Ocean View Avenue, then left one block to Dolliver Street (Highway 1). Go left for one mile. Pismo State Beach North Beach Campground will be on the right. You may drive into the campground and park in campsite #78. There are signs to the grove. Additional parking can be found adjacent to the grove entrance on Highway 1.

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