Story at a glance

  • An unofficial count of migratory western monarch butterflies in coastal California show the population has grown substantially after hitting a record low last year.
  • Volunteers at the annual Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count beginning Nov. 13 will determine the status of the western monarch migratory population in an official count.
  • Legislation has been introduced in Congress that would restore and protect monarch habitats if passed.

Migratory western monarch butterflies are flocking to their overwintering sites in coastal California in droves, an encouraging sign after barren overwintering sites last year raised concerns about the population’s future.

While the official count has not yet begun, early estimates signal the population’s numbers have rebounded after hitting an all-time low last year. 

More than 1,300 monarchs were counted at the Pacific Grove overwintering site in October, which saw no monarchs during last year’s count, the Good News Network reported, and roughly 8,000 were tallied at Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove last month, up from just 300 last year.

Smaller counts and observations from volunteers suggest there could be more than 10,000 monarchs at the overwintering sites. Last year’s count of fewer than 2,000 monarchs followed two consecutive years of tallies under 30,000, the previous record lows.


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Monarch butterflies are found across North America and are separated by the Rocky Mountains into eastern and western populations. Western populations migrate to coastal California in the winter while eastern monarchs typically overwinter in the mountains of central Mexico.

More than 100 community scientists beginning Nov. 13, during the 25th annual Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count, will determine the status of the western monarch migratory population in an official count. The annual event is coordinated by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and is funded in part by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Butterfly populations can fluctuate from year to year in response to things like temperature, rainfall, and the availability of food. 

The Xerces Society has encouraged Californians this year to plant nectar species, especially native plants and flowers that bloom in the early springtime, to ensure there are plenty of floral resources for the butterflies, which are important pollinators.

Legislation has been introduced which would provide funding for monarch habitat restoration and research if passed by Congress. One piece of legislation, the Monarch and Pollinator Highway Act, is part of President Joe Biden’s sweeping infrastructure bill.


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Published on Nov 01, 2021