Images © Todd Klein.
Every fall Monarch Butterflies make an amazing journey from all over North America to their wintering grounds in the mountains of Mexico, and a few places in California. We see hundreds, sometimes thousands, passing through our area on that journey, and occasionally they form roosts at the southern tip of New Jersey in Cape May Point.
Word went out yesterday to nature fans that such a roost had formed at the corner of Lincoln and Cape Avenues in the Point, and butterfly fans as well as casual tourists migrated there to see this amazing sight: hundreds of the large orange, black and white butterflies gathering on a few pine trees along the dune line next to the ocean.
Ellen and I were in the Point on an errand yesterday afternoon, and soon heard of the roost. We drove over to see it, but had not brought binoculars or camera. I tried getting some pics with my phone, but bad lighting and distance defeated me, so I decided to go back this morning. Thankfully, the roost was still there and busy with hundreds of butterflies. I got plenty of pictures, these are my favorites.
While Monarchs are mostly solitary, at this time of year they gather like this in migration, perhaps for communal warmth, or the old “safety in numbers” thing, though there are few birds that will eat them, as they taste very bad. One of the natural side effects of their favorite food, milkweed plants. In fact, their orange color is thought to be a warning sign to predators to stay away.
This roosting behavior will be followed on their wintering grounds, but multiplied by hundreds, with roosts covering entire trees. Most butterflies don’t survive winter, but nature has allowed some Monarchs to succeed with this strategy. As weather warms in the spring, the butterflies will gradually return northward, over several generations, until they’re back in all of North America.
While the still pictures I got are fine, this 1.5 minute video gives you a better idea of how cool the roost site is.
Monarch Mania is on in southern New Jersey. If you have a chance to come down and see this amazing natural event, take it! There’s no telling how long the roost will last. A map link is below.
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