Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS)

Here are some questions that are frequently asked about the Monarch Dunes Butterfly Habitat:

When are the monarch butterflies in Nipomo?

The monarchs begin showing up at Trilogy at Monarch Dunes in September.  They increase in number over the weeks until sometime near the first of November when the nights turn colder and they begin clustering in the nineteen acre habitat.  Our goal is to have them remain in the habitat until mid-February, when they will mate, and the females will then fly away in search of milkweed plants.  The males often remain in the habitat until their eventual death sometime later in the spring.

Where is the milkweed?

We have intentionally not planted any milkweed plants in the nineteen acre habitat.  As a natural part of the monarch migration, the female monarchs leave the overwintering area in search of emerging spring milkweed plants.  Many residents of Trilogy at Monarch Dunes have planted milkweed in their yards to attract the females and provide food for the larvae, but we have planted no milkweed in the habitat area.

What is the best milkweed to plant for where I live?

That’s a good question.  There are many different species of milkweed and all may be used by monarchs as a larval food.  It is probably best to purchase plants or seeds from a supplier in your local area.  For a comprehensive list, visit the milkweed seed and plant supplier listing on the Monarch Watch website.

How can I attract butterflies to my garden?

Again, it really depends on where you live.  A good butterfly garden always contains nectar sources for the insects.  Many butterflies and native flowering plants have co-evolved over time and depend on each other for survival and reproduction.  The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center lists native plants by state.  You might also provide water, a place for the butterflies to rest in filtered sunlight and host plants for the caterpillars to eat.  Avoid all insecticides.

What are those strange looking plants in the main cluster arena?

Giant coreopsis (Coreopsis gigantean) is a woody perennial plant, native to the California coast.  The stem is a tall trunk, 4 to 8 feet high, with bright green leaves and yellow daisy-like flowers on top of the trunk.  The rest of the trunk is bare.  From late fall through late spring, many of these plants bloom to provide a nectar source for the monarchs.  But even the plants that are not in bloom collect water from the morning dew or from the irrigation system, thus providing a wonderful safe hydrating platform for the monarchs.

Why have some of the eucalyptus trees been topped?

In some locations within our main cluster arena, we do not have enough tree limbs growing at the level we find the butterflies routinely use for cluster formations.  In our grove, the monarchs often cluster between 25 and 35 feet, although we do record lower and higher cluster locations.  So, in the summer of 2012, we selectively topped trees we think are located in appropriate filtered sunlight areas to encourage new lower limb growth.  The following season (2012-2013), the monarchs were already using the new growth for sunning activities.

What is that funny looking structure around the double trunked tree near the main viewing area?

That tree (CT-1) used to support clusters of monarchs but again is lacking any lower growing branches.  In 2013 we built what we call an artificial limb structure which we fill with cut eucalyptus branches for the monarchs to use for their cluster formation, in the hopes of providing lower branches in appropriate light situations for the monarchs.

What is the best time of day to view the monarchs?

That depends on what you want to see.  On a bright sunny morning, 11:00 AM is a good time to watch as the monarchs warm in the sun and release from their nightly clusters.  Any sunny afternoon, you can find flying monarchs along the path, sunning in the trees on the southern and western edges of the habitat or resting on the ground near the asphalt path.  On cold or cloudy days, look in the trees straight ahead to the left of the path’s end and you’ll see the monarchs still hanging in their clusters.

Do the monarchs always cluster in the same trees?

That’s another good question.  While the monarchs do tend to use the same trees over and over each season (and remember these are not the same individuals who were here the year before), they do indeed move around the grove, depending, we think, on the weather/changing ambient light in the habitat.  Early in the season, we often have the majority of the monarchs clustering in an area not visible from the paved path (the secondary cluster area).  Every Saturday morning at 11:00 AM in November and December, a MBHVC member is available to lead you into the grove to view the monarchs and to answer your questions.  Bring your cameras!

Are those little orange butterflies actually baby monarchs?

We get this question quite a bit.  In September and October, we do have many smaller orange and black butterflies in the habitat.  But if you’ve read the signs, you know that baby monarchs are caterpillars.  The monarch adults emerge from their chrysalides and expand to their full form in less than half an hour.  We think the small orange and black butterflies are painted ladies, or possibly their petite cousins, west coast ladies.

How can I join the MBHVC?

Only residents of Trilogy at Monarch Dunes are permitted to join the Monarch Butterfly Habitat Volunteer Committee (MBHVC).  Each September we recruit new volunteers to help with the habitat, take data measurements, conduct habitat talks and make decisions about the habitat management.

Last updated 24 May 2013.