It’s November here on the Central Coast, which means thousands of little winged tourists are beginning to stop by on their way south to overwinter in Mexico or rest in California’s warmer climate, escaping the northern chill. Looking up into branches of the eucalyptus and pine trees of the Pismo Beach Monarch Grove this month, you can start to see the hundreds of monarch butterflies flitting overhead, creating softly pulsing traffic patterns in the air. Towards nightfall, the butterflies cluster like big orange leaves in the canopy to keep warm, protect themselves from predators and resist winds that could possibly dislodge them. The docents of the Grove (which officially opened to the public October 29) set up telescopes to give visitors clear views of the brightly colored insects and offer lectures about these extraordinary little creatures throughout their stay ending in February.
Located along Highway 1 on the Southern end of Pismo Beach inside the North Beach Campground, the colony of butterflies living there is the largest in the country, hosting an average of over 25,000 monarchs. As juveniles, the caterpillars feed on milkweed which makes them toxic and distasteful to most predators. Adults feed on the nectar of a variety of flowering plants, and drink little to no water during their migration. Once settled, they sip on dew or fresh water close to their roosting sites.
The butterflies return to the same group of trees each year, having migrated thousands of miles to reach their destination. Generations arriving at their winter vacation home are different than the butterflies that started the journey, and how they orient themselves back to the same location each year is still a mystery. The monarchs typically live for about six weeks, meaning that many of the migrating creatures never see either their starting point up north nor their destination site down here. Once they reach their southern sanctuary, the winter generation enjoys a live span of about six months! In the spring they head north again, and the following generations resume the 6-week life span.
For directions and more information on the Pismo Monarch Grove, visit their website for details. To learn more about the life cycle of the majestic monarch, visit the Grove’s FAQ page, or attend a talk in person!