By Melissa Wynn
The beauty of the majestic Monarch Butterfly has spellbound mankind for centuries. They flutter about all summer long bringing a smile to anyone who takes the time to notice. But, where do they spend the winter? The answer lies in their fascinating life cycle.
As winter comes to a close in February and March the Monarchs begin searching for a mate and a prime patch of milkweed where they lay their eggs. This second generation hatches as caterpillars, spin cocoons, morph into butterflies and find a mate of their own. After they lay their eggs, around six weeks later, they die. The third generational offspring then repeat the cycle and lay their own eggs for the special fourth generation.
This fourth generation, however, lives much longer, six to eight months, and embarks on an epic journey. Usually in October, with freshly dried wings, they flutter up to 2,500 miles to hibernate in the warmer climates of Southern California and Mexico. These areas have no milkweed for caterpillar larvae but butterflies cannot withstand the harsh winter climates where the milkweed grows. So nature evolved a special longevity only for the special fourth generation of Monarch.
The Monarch Butterflies from our neck of the woods and from further north hibernate in and around the towns of Pacific Grove and Santa Cruz, California in eucalyptus and Monterey pine trees. They migrate by the tens of thousands to the very same trees each and every year. It is an enigma that they know just where to settle since they aren’t the same butterflies that arrived the previous year. These are the fourth generation of Monarchs since last winter’s hibernation, so how do they find the same trees?
These mysterious winged wonders are the only insect that migrates to a warmer climate so far away. They cover the trees in blankets of orange and black decor, draped there to captivate us. What a spectacular sight!
Just in time for spring and Valentines Day, nature calls to awaken the hibernating butterflies from their cocoons and the orange and black beauties once again take flight to return to the milkweed fields of Northern California Sierra and Canada, fluttering back to the fields where they spent their caterpillar days, and lay their eggs upon the milkweed that will nourish their young, starting the cycle all over again.