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50 times more monarch butterflies counted this year

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Posted at 6:18 PM, Dec 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-03 14:44:27-05

Initial results are in and the western monarch butterfly is making a comeback.

We're seeing 50 times more monarchs at overwintering sites this year compared to last.

Now through Christmas is the best time to see them in Pismo Beach.

"To have this many this year, is just, I'm jumping out of my skin excited," said Craig Corwin of Arroyo Grande.

Corwin brought his camera to capture the butterflies in clusters and fluttering about.

"There's nothing like it. It's just amazing," he said.

There are more than 22,445 monarchs at the Pismo State Beach Butterfly Grove.

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"Last season, we saw just around 200 at our peak," said Danielle Bronson, State Park Interpreter III.

Over the last few years, there's been a downward trend in the western monarch butterfly population.

In 2013-2014, there were 34,000 butterflies in Pismo Beach. In 2016-2017, it dipped to 20,000 and in 2018-2019, there were a little over 4,300.

But this year, they're back in much greater numbers at hundreds of overwintering sites.

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"We were hoping for a rebound but the scale of the rebound has been beyond anyone's expectations," said Dr. David James, Washington State University Associate Entomologist.

Dr. James says the total population of western monarchs is estimated to be over 100,000 this year compared to just 2,000 last year.

Nobody knows for sure why we're seeing a major shift in numbers.

"We think they had a better year of breeding during the summer this year for whatever reason. We don't know why they had a better year. Maybe it was less parasites and predators," Dr. James said.

"There's climate change, there's a lack of native milkweed. It could be that we had cold snaps at the beginning of their migration back up north or that we had the fires and the smoke could have contributed to the downward numbers," Bronson added.

The butterflies are expected to be in Pismo Beach and the other overwintering sites until February.

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"I mean, you can't find anything more beautiful than this," said Mary Jane West-Delgado of Santa Barbara County.

From here, they'll head inland to find milkweed to lay their eggs for the 2022 season.

The Pismo State Beach Butterfly Grove has been the fall and winter home to thousands of butterflies for over 70 years.

It's encouraged that you bring some binoculars when you check out the butterflies.