About The Monarch Program
The Monarch Program (California Monarch Studies, Inc.) was created in 1990 to foster a growing interest from the public in monarch butterflies. We are a non-profit (501 C-3) research and education organization that uses the monarch (Danaus plexippus) as an educational model for learning more about plant and animal relationships. In addition, we study its unique behavior and follow its phenomenal migration patterns to the coast of California and to the Transverse Neovolcanic Belt of Mountains west of Mexico City.
Our facility is in Encinitas, California (20 miles north of San Diego). Here we study the behavior and biology of various native butterflies in our Butterfly Vivarium, conduct field trips in our classroom, cultivate plants in a greenhouse, rear butterfly livestock, and hold special events. Our activities in the field include monitoring overwintering habitats, tracking tagged monarchs, monitoring spring and summer milkweed colonies, and studying a variety of butterfly species and their host plants.
The Monarch Butterfly
The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is the most well known butterfly in North America. It’s large size with brilliant orange, black, and white colors are impressive. More importantly, their majestic flight and migration behavior has intrigued scientists for more than a century. In W.J. Holland’s publication “The Butterfly Book” (1898) he stated that “It is not believed that any of them hibernate in any stage of their existence.” It was not until 1975 that one of the central Mexico overwintering sites was discovered and a tagged monarch from Ontario, Canada was found. This discovery proved that monarchs can travel great distances and hibernate (diapause) as adult butterflies. At the same time, California coastal overwintering sites were being discovered and recorded.
The common name monarch was first published by the naturalist and lepidopterist Samuel H. Scudder in 1874 because “It is one of the largest of our butterflies, and rules a vast domain.” The species Danaus plexippus may be found on several continents and countries other than North America, including New Zealand, Australia, Canary Islands, United Kingdom, Hawaii, and Cuba. Today the monarch butterfly is the Official State Butterfly (or insect) in seven States: Alabama (1989), Idaho (1992), Illinois (1975), Minnesota (2000), Texas (1995), Vermont (1987), and West Virginia (1995).
The earliest record of overwintering monarchs on the coast of California is from 1869 in Monterey County. People probably did not notice monarchs roosting during the winter before the arrival of eucalyptus trees in the early 1850’s because they were greatly camouflaged on native tree leaves in remote areas; especially western sycamore (Platanus racemosa), Torrey pine (Pinus torreyana), Monterey pine (Pinus radiata), and Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa). In 1904, entomologist V.L. Kellog was the first person to infer that monarchs migrate in California.
In the 1920′s eucalyptus trees were well established along the coast of California as ornamentals and windbreaks. They became the favored roosting trees for monarchs because of the protection they provided from rain, wind, and chilling temperatures. By 2011, more than 210 coastal sites from Mendocino County to south of Ensenada, B.C., Mexico, have been recorded and more are discovered every season. At least 80% of these sites are eucalyptus groves.