Photo: Vern Fisher - Monterey Herald
Western Monarch Day
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
"Butterflies...flowers that fly and all but sing."
~ Robert Frost (1874-1963)
Each year, tens of millions of monarch butterflies migrate up to 3,000 miles from the northeastern United States and Canada down to their wintering grounds in Mexico's Central Highlands to escape the frosts of winter. In fact, tagged monarch butterflies have been found to travel more than 250 miles in one day! In California, however, Monarchs overwinter in the Eucalyptus and pine trees in Butterfly Grove, Pismo Beach, returning every year to escape the colder winters north. In both caterpillar and butterfly form, monarchs are aposematic - warding off predators with a bright display of contrasting colors, warning potential predators of their undesirable taste and poisonous characteristics. By feeding only on milkweed species, the monarch sequesters the poisonous cardiac glycosides in their bodies both as caterpillars and butterflies.
One of the most spectacular sights on the California West Coast are the sudden appearance of the Western Monarch Butterflies on their journeys to more than 200 overwintering sites up and down the California coast.
One of their special resting places is in Pacific Grove, California, in the Monterey Bay on the Pacific Coast, close to the home of The Red Thistle Dancers.
The monarch is the only butterfly known to make a two-way migration as birds do. Unlike other butterflies that can overwinter as larvae, pupae, or even as adults in some species, monarchs cannot survive the cold winters of northern climates. Using environmental cues, the monarchs know when it is time to travel south for the winter. Monarchs use a combination of air currents and thermals to travel long distances, some as far as 3,000 miles.
Monarchs travel only during the day and need to find a roost at night. Monarchs gather close together during the cool autumn evenings at roost sites which are used year after year. Often pine, fir and cedar trees are chosen for roosting. These trees have thick canopies that moderate the temperature and humidity at the roost site. In the mornings, monarchs bask in the sunlight to warm themselves.
Click the picture of basking monarchs below (photo by Michael Yang) to learn more about migrating Monarchs and their life cycle in a short video.