I am a female Monarch butterfly, flying high above Pismo Beach, flying from the tall Eucalyptus trees, where I have been sleeping this winter. How I love the California Coast! It has everything I need here: moderate winter temps, clean air, and I am making friends to help me keep warm. The sun comes out. I feel its warmth on my wings… I open them, flashing orange at any passersby. There are none. Presently, I fly off across the Meadow. What do I spy down there? Could it be Milkweed? I zoom in for a closer look. There to my unbelieving eyes, yes, they even have milkweed here! I can lay my eggs on the Milkweed plants right here and then go back to my California lifestyle. No need to go anywhere else. I have what I need right here at the Hotel California.
And so it was that one less Monarch butterfly returned to the Sierras that Spring. She decided instead to stay at Monarch Grove on the Central Coast of California, where she had all she needed. They were even growing Milkweed for her.
Such was a story I heard from one of the docents at the Monarch Butterfly Grove. You see, a couple of years ago, the docents had tried to do a good thing for the Monarch butterflies. They planted Milkweed for them to eat. They also sold Milkweed plants (California variety, Asclepias fascicularis) in pots to local gardeners. The problem was, many of the plants had Monarch eggs on them. And the females, having laid their eggs, had no interest in returning home! Like runaway teenagers, they stayed and learned to surf the waves of the sky in California’s golden springtime. (windsurfing)
Experts told the CA Park Docents that this was not a good result. If the Monarchs did not fly back North, it would disrupt their natural cycle. Talk about unexpected consequences! Here docents thought they were doing a good thing by planting Milkweed! But they had to tear up their plants and also they stopped selling it! I was surprised by this. What about all those Monarchs visiting, overwintering? Surely they would be hungry. Shouldn’t the docents at least plant more nectar flowering plants?
The Monarchs, I learned, do not need to eat much in the winter. They live off the “fat” they stored during late Summer, when they seemed to have nothing they wanted to do so much as simply gorge themselves on nectar. No, in the winter what they want is rain.. big rain puddles to sit in and drink up minerals.
Still, I would have liked to see more winter flowers for the Monarch butterflies anyway. Their journey seems so perilous as it is, with development taking away so much habitat and food sources along their way. Many of them must arrive skinny and tattered and have a hard time making it through the winter.
So, as you wait this Spring for the return of the Monarch butterflies to your Northern wildlife gardens, knowing that you have planted the larval and nectar plants that they need, and you think you see a few less Monarchs, consider .. it may be the result of some unintended consequences.. as it was down at the Hotel California.
“You can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave.. “ The Eagles.. Hotel California”
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