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Monarch Butterfly Coast

California's Central Coast is a Winter Home for the Monarch Butterfly

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Monarch Butterfly Coast

Monarch Butterfly

Courtesy of Getty Images/Mike Simons

The delicate, orange-and-black Monarch butterflies spends part of its amazing life cycle in California, where it's easy to watch.

From mid-October through February each year, Monarch butterflies sleep in California's coastal eucalyptus groves. In early morning, visitors watch the trees like a crowd of expectant theatregoers. Basketball-sized clusters of what at first appear to be brown leaves rustle and stir. The air fills with orange and black wings, and a monarch butterfly parade begins.

These tiny creatures are getting ready for a migration that would leave stronger animals, and most humans, exhausted. Every fall, the Monarch butterfly begins a long journey. It will take some 1,800 miles (2,900 km) and four generations before their descendants return to where they started.

The first generation begins their migration in wintering locations along the California coast. There, they cluster in eucalyptus groves, mating in late January and leaving for spring migration by March.

The Monarchs lay their eggs inland on milkweed plants in the Sierra Nevada foothills and then die. The second generation hatches and flies across the mountains into Oregon, Nevada or Arizona. Third and fourth Monarch butterfly generations fan out even further and then return to the California coast, to the place where their great-great grandparents started.

Monarch Butterfly-Watching Spots in California

Winter Sites (from north to south):

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