Exploring California's Largest Monarch Butterfly Grove
Each year thousands of vibrant orange and black Monarch Butterflies flock to Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove, seeking shelter from the freezing northern winters. From late October to February, the butterflies cluster in the limbs of a grove of Eucalyptus trees at Pismo State Beach on the Central Coast of California. The Butterfly Grove hosts an average of 25,000 butterflies every year that migrate south to the Central Coast.
“This is what’s called an over-wintering site and there’s about two hundred in California. Ours has actually been the biggest for most of the time that we’ve been monitoring them”, says Jyllian Smith, State Park Interpretative Specialist at the Butterfly Grove.
Visitors from all over the Central Coast and throughout the state come to Pismo Beach to view the Monarchs. Guests are greeted by knowledgable and well-informed volunteer docents and State Park Interpretative Specialists, like Ms. Smith, who entertain children and adults with fascinating information about the butterflies that cover the trees and take flight in the air. Paths meander through the Eucalyptus grove where guests can see and take pictures of the butterflies. Signs dot the area with interesting facts about the butterflies. Telescopes are available to get an up-close glimpse of these fascinating creatures.
“It’s amazing to see [the kids] come into this grove, and they don’t really know what to expect exactly,” said Ms. Smith, “but when they look through that telescope or when they see them for the first time, you can jus see them light up.”
Video: See the Grove
The Monarchs that visit Pismo Beach are a special variety. They have a life span of six months as opposed to that of common Monarchs who live only six weeks. This can be attributed to a unique fat storing system. However, even with an extended life span, those butterflies that leave in March will never return. Yet, even in this short life span, the monarch butterfly has a fascinating life cycle from caterpillar to chrysalis and then a monarch butterfly - each stage on display at the Butterfly Grove.
Video: See and learn about the Monarch Butterflies life cycle
The butterflies form dense clusters with each one hanging with its wing down over the one below it to form a shingle effect. This provides shelter from the rain and warmth for the group. The weight of the cluster help keeps it from whipping in the wind and dislodging the butterflies. It isn’t until the temperature rises above 55 degrees do that butterflies begin moving around, opening their wings, and warming themselves to fly.
Video: Learn more about how temperature effects the butterflies
Scientists do not know why the Monarchs consistently return to some wintering sites. In North America, those sites range from the Central and Southern California Coast to Mexico. Some scientists speculate that the insects are equipped with genetic homing systems that lead them from their summer sites in the Sierras, Florida, Canada and the Great Lakes Region in North America back to their winter locations.
The Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove is open to the public at no charge and easily accessible for all ages including wheelchair access. It is located on State Highway 1 at the south boundary of the city limits of Pismo Beach. During the season the Docent Trailer opens at 10am and closes at 4pm daily. Daily talks happen at 11am and 2pm, weather permitting. For more information or directions, please call the Interpretive Office of the Oceano Dunes, California State Parks at: 805-773-5301. Be sure to visit ClassicCalifornia.com – the Pismo Beach Conference and Visitors Bureau’s web site for more information about Pismo Beach.