The orange-and-black Western monarch butterflies wintering along California’s central coast are bouncing back after the population of Western monarch butterflies reached an all-time low last year. The presence of monarch butterflies is often a good indicator of ecosystem health; experts pin their decline on climate change, lack of food due to drought, and habitat destruction.
Xerces society’s annual winter count of last year was less than 2,000 butterflies, an enormous decline from the tens of thousands recorded in recent years and much less than the millions of butterflies that clustered in trees from Northern California’s Mendocino County to Baja California, Mexico in the south in the 1980s. Presently, the monarch butterflies roost in concentrated sites mainly along California’s central coast.
The Director of Endangered Species at Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Sarina Jepsen, said that this year’s official count began on Saturday and will last for three weeks. Still, an unofficial count by researchers and volunteers shows over 50,000 monarch butterflies at the overwintering sites.
Western monarch butterflies fly south from the Pacific Northwest to California each winter, returning to the same trees at the same places to cluster to warm themselves over the winter. The monarch butterflies usually arrive in California at the beginning of November and spread across the United States once the weather warms in March.
The coastal city of Pacific Grove, nearly 70 kilometers away from San Francisco, has worked for years to help the dwindling population of monarch butterflies. Popularly known as ‘Butterfly Town, USA,’ the city of Pacific Grove celebrates the orange and black butterflies with a parade every October. Causing trouble to a monarch butterfly or messing around with one in the town is a crime that carries a $1,000 fine.