Every fall when the weather starts to get colder, the beautiful monarch butterflies make their migration south. Many of these painted creatures travel to Mexico and the Gulf coast to overwinter and lay eggs for next year's migration. Some monarchs will travel to California to the few sanctuaries that remain. One of the best locations to see them in action is Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz.
The mild climate and eucalyptus grove at Natural Bridges provide a safe place for monarchs to overwinter until spring. Since the milkweed plant is found in the valley west of the Rocky Mountains, the monarchs live there in the spring and summer and drink nectar from the flowers. The female monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed leaves, and the larvae feed on the leaves of these plants. Monarchs rely on the toxic properties of the milkweed to keep predators away.
As the only State Monarch Grove in California, Natural Bridges Monarch Preserve protects these butterflies and their winter habitat from harm. The eucalyptus trees provide the monarchs shelter from the wind and are a convenient food source. When it's cold, the butterflies cluster together in the eucalyptus trees for warmth. Doing this is also a defense mechanism for the colony. The dull color of their underside wings give them the appearance of dead leaves, making it harder for predators to spot them. Visitors can view the monarchs at Natural Bridges from an observation deck in the eucalyptus grove. November is the best time of year to catch a glimpse of these beautiful creatures.
Over the last two decades, a third of monarch breeding grounds have disappeared, causing a major population decrease. The change in climate, urban growth, the use of pesticides, and the dwindling milkweed supply have all contributed to the decline. Natural Bridges is one of the few designated protection sites that is helping to perpetuate the species.
You can help monarchs make the trip no matter where you live or where "your" monarchs overwinter. Plant and protect milkweed stands in your area. Be sure to have native nectar plants for the adults to fuel up for the journey. Monarchs can get to where they need to go with a little help from all the people along their routes.
Photo Credit: Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_billperry'>billperry / 123RF Stock Photo</a>