Good morning and greetings, Thanksgiving fans, and welcome to Monarach Monday. We are just a few days away from celebrating the festival of the giving of thanks, which for many of us includes the inhaling of golden turkey, savory stuffing, creamy sweet pototoes, Ocean Spray cranberry sauce and a variety of desserts that would send Jenny Craig straight to the treadmill. It’s a traditional gathering of friends and loved ones, that has to rank, for some families, as the most stressful meal of the year. Personally, I’m quite fond of this holiday as I do the carving of the turkey and am already half-full by the time I sit down, so there’s little chance of overeating.
November is also the month when the monarch butterflies hit their peak at a eucalyptus grove at Natural Bridges State Park. At this time of they year, when it’s sunny and warm, the monarchs flitter and flutter overhead, giving one a feeling of peace and tranquility that only nature and the first season of “Sons of Anarchy” can create.
The monarch state preserve at Natural Bridges is the only one in California. Two years ago the monarch population peaked at about 3,000 to 4,000, where as the year before the total was 10,000. Barbara Cooksey, an interpretive specialist at Natural Bridges, said at the time “Ten years ago, there used to be 150,000 every year.” When asked why the number has dropped so drastically, she said, “Herbicides, pesticides, choosing up sides, habitat loss, a last-second loss and bioengineered corn and soy, because both products contain pesticides. The pollen will blow to adjacent milkweed and the insecticides will kill the caterpillar.
Monarch butterflies spend the winter along the Pacific coast because the weather here is cold enough that the butterflies can go into reproductive diapause yet not freeze. This is a state similar to hibernation and something my parents mentioned during the talk about the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees. The air temperature is also the reason why butterflies never need to wear sweaters.
The monarchs come to this particular eucalyptus grove at Natural Bridges because of Santa Cruz’s reputation for liberal politics. It is located in a canyon with shelter from the wind and which filters sunlight to keep their bodies from freezing. The eucalyptus trees also flower in the winter, giving the butterflies a convenient source of food and while making nifty holiday gifts for dragonflies, fruit bats and distant low-flying relatives.
As you can see in photos 3 and 4, monarchs cluster in the trees. They cluster like this to protect themselves from the wind, rain and Fox News. Clustering may also make it easier to find a mate, as the male scent gland no longer functions in the monarchs and is a whole lot cheaper than emonarchHarmony.com.
To get to Natural Bridges, the monarchs fly 60 to 100 miles a day with a brief stopover for lunch. On the west coast they must fly against the wind and will only take to the air when the weather is warm and above 55 degrees. To paraphrase butterfly lover Sammy Hagar, “I can’t fly 55.”
Monarchs are born in the fall, and like most goals I set, live six to nine months. They follow the milkweed patches north as the weather grows warmer. Each generation flies a little further north to lay their eggs and then, like most of my hopes, dreams and baseline jumpers, die. Monarchs do not have a mouth with which to chew. During this stage, they can only drink water with a straw-like proboscis, which gives them energy. Unlike my Aunt Shirley, a monarch drinks only about once a week, so as you can imagine, that is one long sip.
So now you’re probably wondering, how can you tell the difference between a male and a female monarch? The males have a spot on each hind wing, easily seen on the upper side of the wing. The females do not have the spot and their black lines (veins) are wider than the male’s veins. Also, the females tend to cry at the drop of a hat while the males like to talk sports while being emotionally unavailable.
Monarchs are perhaps the most well-known of all North American butterflies. They are one of the few insects capable of making transatlantic crossings, mostly thru travelocity.com. They can’t really hear, but like my Uncle Morty, sense the world through smell and vision. They communicate through colorization by the opening and closing their wings. It is also suspected that male monarchs communicate with the female monarchs by emitting a scent referred to as pheromone. That’s why you’re might hear a female monarch say, “There’s something about an Aqua Velva bug.”
Butterflies have the broadest visual spectrum of any known animal and can see colors that humans can’t. They can see UV light, which humans can’t. Much like me these days, they don’t really sleep, but are inactive when it’s dark. They can’t shut their eyes because they don’t have eyelids. That’s why you never say to a butterfly, “Close your eyes, I’ve got surprise for you.”
Monarchs begin life as an egg. The eggs, laid on milkweed leaves, hatch into caterpillars. The baby caterpillars eat the milkweed and grow very quickly. The milkweed contains a poison that the monarchs use for their defense. That and a two-three zone trap. While the poison doesn’t hurt the monarchs, it makes them taste bad to birds, other predators and pygmy tribesman.
Finally, the Aztecs believed the adult monarch butterflies to be the incarnation of fallen warriors, wearing the colors of battle. This is not to be confused with the dysfunctional, going-nowhere Golden State Warriors, who have just fallen and can’t get up.
On to the humor of the late night. “President Obama is in China this week, or as they call it, the ‘People’s Republic of Wal-Mart.’ Fox News is criticizing President Obama because he bowed to the Japanese emperor, and earlier he got in trouble with bowing to the Saudi king. See, that never would happen with President Bush. He only bowed to Dick Cheney.” –Jay Leno “President Obama has lifted his ban on doing interviews with Fox News. Well, yesterday, President Obama was interviewed by a reporter from Fox News. And you could tell the reporter was from Fox News because the first question was, ‘How do you think you’re doing as president on a scale from minus one to minus ten?” –Conan O’Brien
“President Obama was in Japan. Some people are upset that Obama bowed to the Japanese emperor. It’s still better than when former President Bush high-fived the emperor and said, ‘Give me some skin, Mr. Miyagi. Former Vice President Dick Cheney is in the news. Cheney slammed President Obama for bowing before the emperor of Japan. Cheney said, ‘Come on, it’s not like he’s the CEO of Exxon. It’s been announced that President Obama’s first state dinner at the White House is going to be held in honor of the prime minister of India. Guests are encouraged to wear black tie and to bring any laptops with tech problems.” –Conan O’Brien
“The other day, Sarah Palin said she’d like to have coffee with Hillary Clinton. Now, Hillary is saying she looks forward to it. The two have agreed to meet at the Never Will Be President Cafe.” –Conan O’Brien “Last week, an 11-year-old boy shot and killed a black bear that wouldn’t leave his family’s front porch. Right after that, Sarah Palin wanted to know if he would be her running mate for 2012.” –Jimmy Fallon “You know who was on Oprah the other day was Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska. The high point was when the Governor shot a cigarette out of Oprah’s mouth.” –David Letterman “In her new book, ‘Going Rogue,’ Sarah Palin says she doesn’t like vegetarians. Palin says all vegetarians should go back to Vegetaria, where they came from.” –Conan O’Brien
So that’s our pre-Thanksgiving report. Growing up in New Jersey, orange and black buses used to pass by our house every day and my high school colors were orange and black, so having this incredible grove of multi-colored marvels less than a mile from my home seems like a natural progression. Coming up next week we’ll take a look at my favorite sunrise from the month of November. So enjoy the holiday and time spent with friends and family and we’ll catch you running the double reverse. Aloha, mahalo and later, Matthew Stafford fans.