Celebrating the Monarch Butterflies of Yosemite

by - Friday, September 22, 2017

They delight all who see them. Without a doubt, monarch butterflies are the most iconic butterfly species of North America.

Their wide habitat range, large size and intricate coloring of black, orange and white make them unmistakable. Their story of long-distance migration makes them unforgettable.

While at Yosemite National Park earlier this year for our fall photo shoot, we learned how the park is an important breeding ground for monarchs. In particular, the meadows of Yosemite Valley and Hetch Hetchy are prime areas to view these impressive butterflies. Why these places? It’s because their host plant, the milkweed, grows in abundance in both valleys.

This seven-minute video, from our friends at Yosemite Conservancy, offers an overview of the critical connection between monarch butterflies and milkweed.

A monarch’s life is quite remarkable. Late each spring, their metamorphosis from eggs to caterpillar (larvae) to pupa to butterfly takes place, sometimes in as little as 25 days. Less than 10% typically survive this development phase due to predators, disease and weather extremes.

While still caterpillars, monarchs can be found in Yosemite eating milkweed leaves. Once they become adult butterflies, they can more easily be seen flitting from flower to flower. Our sources at the National Park Service say that July, August and September are the best times to view the adult butterflies in Yosemite.

Monarchs ingest nectar to fuel their annual journey to the California coast, where they cluster and overwinter in trees. While milkweed is their key source of food, they are known to rely on several different plants during their migration journey.

Other North American populations of monarchs have migration patterns that range from Canada to Mexico. They can be found in the Midwest states, the Caribbean, North Africa, Australia, the Philippines and Hawaii, among other places.

Sadly, monarch butterfly populations are reported to be in significant decline, both locally and worldwide.

The Xerces Society and World Wildlife Fund, in collaboration with local researchers, conducted butterfly counts at the overwintering areas on the California coast. Their census counted a reported 1.2 million monarchs in 1997 but less than 300,000 in 2015, a staggering 74 percent decline. Much of this drop is believed to be the result of a loss of crucial milkweed habitat, though other causes have not been ruled out.

At Sundance, we are trying to raise awareness of the monarch’s plight. Awareness is key, because while everyone appreciates monarch butterflies, few of us realize that they’re in trouble. And once you do find out, it’s still hard to realize what exactly we as individuals can do about it.
We’re proud to tell the monarch’s story online, and this fall we’re even decorating our Sundance stores in a butterfly motif to help raise awareness.

We are also encouraging you, our fellow admirers of these beautiful butterflies, to take action. You can volunteer to improve monarch butterfly habitat by visiting Yosemite National Park’s volunteer office website. Similarly, the Yosemite Conservancy offers a popular Work Week program that periodically includes habitat-improvement efforts.

Can’t volunteer anytime soon? Direct donations to either of these worthy organizations are always gladly accepted.

For additional inspiration, consider a purchase of Four Seasons of Yosemite by Mark Boster. Part of the proceeds from sales of his stunning book of photographs go to support the conservation programs of the Yosemite Conservancy. Hint: The book also makes a great holiday gift for any fan of the outdoors!

Let’s all find a way to ensure future generations can enjoy the wonder of the magnificent butterflies.

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