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Millions of monarch butterflies are charging 3,000 miles south right now, fleeing Canada’s harsh winter for Mexico’s milder one. Lucky for us in Colorado, this beautiful, massive fluttering passes straight over our state, giving us the chance to spot these majestic creatures in full flight throughout September.
“You can tell the migrating monarchs because they look like monarchs with a mission,” says Kathryn Hokamp, lepidopterologist at the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster. “Unless they’re eating, they’re headed south.”
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These are the super generation of monarchs, which means that they’re bigger, stronger, and live eight times longer than their parents and grandparents. During their grand migration, the longest of any butterfly species, the monarchs leave Canada in August and arrive in Mexico just in time for the Day of the Dead in early November. There, they hang out together in huge clusters for protection and warmth, biding their time until spring when they, or rather their offspring, head back north to Canada. The spring migration is slower, as those monarchs don’t live nearly as long as the super generation, stopping to mate, lay eggs, and die off. “It’s just not quite as intense. It’s over a much longer time period,” Hokamp says.
Translation? Right now is prime time for monarch viewing, and we’re about as far west as the butterflies go. (They stay on our side of the Rockies.) Here, Hokamp’s tips on how to catch—just not literally—this incredible sight:
- Look for them early, but too early. “They need time to warm up in the morning. You usually don’t see large numbers before 10 a.m. I suggest 10 a.m to 2 p.m.”
- Watch for sunny, clear days. That’s when you’re most likely to see a swarm. Our eastern plains get a lot of this type of weather now, so the monarchs are fans that region of the state.
- Head to where the flowers are, especially pollinator gardens filled with nectar flowers and milkweed. These guys and gals are traveling a whopping 50 miles a day, so they need a lot of fuel to keep their wings flapping. Hokamp says you might see them stopping for a snack at the Gardens on Spring Creek in Fort Collins and the Denver Botanic Gardens.
- Hit up the Butterfly Pavilion. Besides attracting the super generation of migrating monarchs with its butterfly-geared pollinator garden, the Pavilion is hosting Monarch Magic from September 13–30. For this special event, they’re bringing in more than 200 non-migrating monarchs to see up close in their tropical conservatory. “We’re really featuring monarchs this month. You can see how they look and learn more about what they do and why this migration is so special.” Tickets are $40 for four and $24 for two and include a timed admission and a monarch plush.