Why So Few Monarchs?

Maybe the butterflies hate the tourists too. I certainly avoid places where they gather.

Butterfly Molesting

Roughly 30 people — sanctuary docents, volunteers and interested members of the public — gathered in the sanctuary Thursday morning to listen to Stuart Weiss, the chief scientist contracted by the city to develop long-term planning for the 2.5-acre site. Weiss described what goals he and the city want to accomplish to help monarchs, including dealing with tree species, microclimates and the plants monarchs rely on for nectar.

Why So Few Monarchs?

Zombie Butterflies On The Loose

Zombie Butterflies

Probably birds. Wouldn’t it be odd if it was hawks brought in to control sea gulls finding the town’s symbol more tasty than gulls.

The butterflies are often found clinging to life — their abdomen removed with seemingly surgical precision.

“Their abdomen is just severed clean off, like you took it off with a scalpel,” says Stong, who is also the regional coordinator for the Xerces Society’s Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count.

Connie Masotti, a docent at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, has also found several of the gutless butterflies. Based on their observations, Masotti suspects that the predation happens just before sunrise, since the butterflies are still alive when the docents get to their stations in the early morning.

Zombie Butterflies On The Loose

Butterfly Population Is Dwindling

Lost their rental homes to newcomers from Fresno?

Who is The Xerces Society? They just told us that the Monarch population was up in February. Sounds like a global warming ruse.

A new study by the Xerces Society showed a 74 percent decrease in the number of monarch butterflies over the last two decades.

Butterfly conservationists at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History monitor the monarch numbers on the Monterey Peninsula and said the study’s results come as no surprise. They are similar to a trend conservationists are seeing locally.

“Their numbers are going down,” museum representative Patrick Whitehurst said.

Butterfly Population Is Dwindling

Butterfly Population Is Increasing

Showing a sign of improvement, but more prefer the hot tubs in Marin,

Each year the Xerces Society does an annual Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count.

“There’s volunteers all along the west coast, primarily in California that are counting over wintering sites during the three weeks around thanksgiving,” said Pacific Grove Museum Director of Education Ann Wasser.

Those numbers, which were just made available, show that almost 280-thousand monarchs made the long journey. And while it’s a big difference from the 1.2 million that use to fly to the California coast during winter, it is higher than previous years for most places.

“For Monterey County our numbers were not as high as they were last year. Counties farther north of us, especially Marin County, had much higher numbers this year,” said Wasser.

Butterfly Population Is Increasing

Visitors Want Milkweed And Gift Shops

Huge Gift Shop

Maria Rodale visits the monarch sanctuary, searches real hard to blame something that’s not organic for the decline. Besides, isn’t it the caterpillars someplace else that munch the milkweed?

I arrived around 10 a.m. and saw…nothing. OK, I saw one tiny monarch flitting about like it was a bit drunk. The sanctuary itself is also kind of…sad. Its entrance is between a motel and some garbage cans. It’s very small, and surprisingly, there was no gift shop! I thought back to when I researched the place on the Web and recalled that it was very hard to find. Hmmm…

Undaunted, I drove downtown to the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, where I asked what was going on. “Oh, they are there. If you go back at noon there is a docent who will show them to you. They can be hard to see.” But, I asked, was the population declining? “Absolutely,” she said. The current population was only a quarter of what it was just 10 years ago, she added. I asked what she attributed it to and she said “urban growth, habitat loss, lack of milkweed.” What about agricultural chemicals? I asked. “Oh, that’s more of an East Coast problem,” she said.

Visitors Want Milkweed And Gift Shops

Huffington Post

Tree Cutting Could Have Caused Monarch Decline

Butterfly Tree Stump

With our city on the job, the best they can come up with is spending about $80,000 on a shuttle bus to bring butterflies over from Santa Cruz.

A thinning canopy of trees may be a factor in the reduced numbers of monarch butterflies visiting the Pacific Grove sanctuary, two scientists told the City Council last week.

The council voted unanimously to direct City Manager Thomas Frutchey to convene a meeting of interested parties on the butterfly issue, engage Weiss to update and expand the sanctuary management plan, and direct the city’s Natural Resources Commission to oversee the plan update. No meeting date has been set.

Tree Cutting Could Have Caused Monarch Decline

Flash Back! Butterfly Parade From The 1970s

Butterfly Parade Cover

Ford Times, October 1977

Butterfly Parade Title

Each autumn the visitors come drifting across Monterey Bay, delicate flecks of orange and black against the crisp blue sky, wafted along by the southerly air current and the typically erratic beat of their own wings. Residents of Pacific Grove, California, watch for them, marveling at the unerring instinct that brings millions of fragile monarch butterflies to winter at this small seacoast village year after year.

Arrival of the first velvet-winged visitors in early October stirs a bustle of activity as Pacific Grove school children prepare a regal welcome, the annual Butterfly Parade. Thousands of residents and visitors will line the curbs October 15 this year to watch colorfully costumed children march to the blare and oom-pah-pah of glittering school bands, celebrating the gloriously unusual gift that nature’s whimsical magic brings to this town.

Pacific Grove, dubbed “Butterfly Town U.S.A.” by its Chamber of Commerce, is a salty seawhisper of a town: rustic homes, cottages and sprawling resort motels nestled among sweet-scented Monterey pines, oaks, eucalyptus and wind-blown cypress at the thumbnail end of the Monterey Peninsula. Here the quiet waters of Monterey Bay nudge against the endless rolling swells of the blue Pacific some 125 miles south of San Francisco. No one knows when the monarchs first began their October to March sojourns here; coastal Indians spoke of them long before the first white settlers came.

An advance contingent of “scouts” flits into Pacific Grove a month before the main migration, searching out certain groves of trees, almost always the same ones favored by the previous year’s A visitors. Local folklore has it that monarchs will avoid a tree where butterflies were disturbed the year before. Natural scientists smile at this and theorize that monarchs a follow thermal air layers to there town, then locate favored resting trees by an ultra sensitive sense of smell that zeros in on residual odors left by the prior generation.

When the main army of monarchs invades this coastal town, trees and shrubs literally bloom in butterflies. Clustering thickly on branches and leaves, piling atop one another, resting monarchs respond to the touch of morning sun by spreading brilliant orange and A black inner wings, a breathtaking show of kaleidoscopic colors. On cool or rainy days the outer wings shut tight, assuming the brownish hues of dead leaves.

Pacific Grove officially protects its gentle visitors under a not so gentle town ordinance that imposes a $500 fine on anyone caught molesting them – an overt expresic sign of loving regard for the butterflies as well as a tacit recognition of their value in bringing tourist trade.

Not surprisingly, the monarch motif pops up frequently in downtown shops and businesses. Colorful cardboard monarchs spread their wings over window merchandise displays. Besides the expected picture postcards, slides and posters there are monarch-decorated drinking glasses, coasters, ash trays, place mats, pillows and other ephemera. Local buses label themselves “Mini-Monarch” or “Maxi-Monarch,” depending on size, sprouting enormous painted monarch wings along their gleaming white side panels. Oblivious of the various artistic and commercial renderings of their fair anatomies, monarchs flit and glide about town, pausing to sip nectar from flowering shrubs, blossoming window boxes and fall flower gardens.

One of the best known groves of “butterfly trees” in town is on the grounds of Milar Butterfly Grove Motel near the end of Lighthouse Avenue, the town’s main street. Ghostly wisps of gray-green Spanish moss beard high pine branches, providing choice gathering sites for monarchs. By November masses of monarchs cover the trees in living orange and black drapery. The gift shop in the motel office is a collector’s paradise of framed butterfly specimens.

Finally it is the day of the big Butterfly Parade. Cross streets blocked by wooden barricades are manned directing out-of-towners to nearby parking. Families stream from cars, little ones in tow, heading toward the smattering of early arrivals who have already staked out curbside claims.

Several blocks away all is tumult at Robert Down School where 1,200 costumed paraders are gathering. A frantic mother searches for her preschooler, finds him asking a band member if he can toot his tuba. Teachers line up stragglers in their places, glancing about anxiously for the missing ones. A car pulls up, dropping off a small girl who shrieks as the car door slams on her butterfly wing. The door opens, the wing is straightened and all is well again. A clarinet ripples up and down a scale.

High school band members, sharp in brand new scarlet uniforms and white hats, feign boredom, as if the parade is a bit young for them.

Down on the comer of Lighthouse and Fountain, spectators peer up the hill expectantly, front liners checking their cameras. It is a sparkling crisp blue-skied day, the kind parade planners pray for.

“Here they come!” a sharp eyed, white haired grandfather yells as he points up Fountain Avenue hill. The faraway muffled rum-te-dum of the bass drum and a few faint rah-tara-las from the trombones drift down on a wisp of breeze. Fathers hoist toddlers to their shoulders as the music grows louder.

“Why does the band keep stopping?” a visitor asks. “The preschoolers are right behind them,” a local explains. “The tots determine the pace of the whole shebang.” It doesn’t matter. The slow approach whets the appetite for greater enjoyment.

The junior high band in front executes its turn with casual aplomb, horns and buttons gleaming, tootling and drumming a smile onto the face of the crowd. “Randolph’s out of step again,” a mother whispers. The band passes grandly, followed by the youngest kids in the parade, wide eyed nursery schoolers who seem to think the whole thing is organized so they can stare at the spectators.

“There’s Suzy!” yells a small boy with a big voice. Looking more like the littlest angel than a butterfly, Suzy pops a finger into her mouth and turns her head,embarrassed.

Mothers skirt the edge of the street anxiously, the “safety pin brigade” as one teacher calls them. If a wing sags or a costume threatens to disintegrate, one of the mothers will dash into the parade and make instant repairs. Butterfly wings are legion and some kids sprout pipe-cleaner antennae from headbands.

Surprises are inevitable since classes decide on their own costume theme each year. Green clad, tinsel trimmed youngsters pretend to be Martians visiting the monarchs. Coonskin-capped pioneers and their bonneted, long-skirted “womenfolk” march west to “discover” the monarchs while a tribe of diminutive Indians in feathers and painted faces protests “WE FOUND THEM FIRST” on a large banner. The crowd laughs and applauds.

Butterfly Parade Bell Bottoms

In an hour the parade is over. Visitors begin to stream back to their cars, or join townspeople heading for the PTA Bazaar where games, contests, food, drink and white elephant sales will prolong the fun a few more hours.

Overhead monarchs glide and flutter in the sun. Next year their progeny will most certainly return to Pacific Grove while scientists continue to puzzle over exactly how they do it. Perhaps the secret isn’t so mysterious. After all, who would want to miss the marvelous Butterfly Parade?

Flash Back! Butterfly Parade From The 1970s