Last weekend we headed down to the Monarch Butterfly Natural Reserve at Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz.
From October to March, adult monarch butterflies spend the winter here at the sanctuary. In the spring, the butterflies lay eggs on milkweed plants, caterpillars hatch, eating only milkweed leaves (which are poisonous to predators) until a chrysalis forms. After two weeks, a new monarch butterfly emerges.
Before going out to the boardwalk and Monarch Trail, stop into the Visitor Center. There’s information about monarch butterflies, and live milkweed plants where we saw a caterpillar and chrysalis. According to the ranger, best time to see the most butterflies is December and January.
Stroll down the boardwalk through a big grove of eucalyptus trees. You’ll see monarch butterflies fluttering everywhere, sipping on nectar from blossoms on trees and plants. One child said, grabbing his older brother, “Look at the butterflies up there. This is beautiful!”
Here’s our favorite books about monarch butterflies:
- Monarch Butterfly by Gail Gibbons – Before visiting monarch butterfly groves, learn out about the life cycle of the monarch, and migration of adult butterflies in fall and spring. (Picture book)
- Monarch and Milkweed by Helen Frost, Leonid Gore – In spring, the milkweed plant opens its leaves, where the monarch butterfly lays its eggs. The eggs hatch, caterpillars eat leaves and transform into a green and gold chrysalis, until one morning, a new butterfly, “opens her wings, closes them, open them wide – a light breeze lifts her and she flies.” Exquisitely illustrated. (Picture book)
- Monarch Magic by Lynn M. Rosenblatt – Along with the life cycle of the monarch butterfly, activities to do – raise a monarch butterfly, grow milkweed, make mobiles, T-shirts and puppets. Good for older kids. (Activity book)
- The Butterfly Garden by Laura Weston. In spring, watch the metamorphosis of a monarch butterfly – from egg into caterpillar, chrysalis, emerging as a beautiful orange and black butterfly. Monarch butterflies fly away, migrate, hibernate in autumn … and next spring, a new egg. Lift the flap to reveal bright monarchs in the cycle of life. (Board book)
Tip: Due to the loss of milkweed plants throughout the United States, at the Natural Bridges Visitor Center they recommend planting milkweed seeds at home to create new plants for the butterflies.