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In Episode 4, The Crowd & The Cloud meets citizens committed to counting some of nature's most beautiful creatures. Scroll down to learn more about the people and projects featured in this segment.

Western Monarch Count

Monitor monarch breeding habitat to track migration.

The monarch butterfly is admired for its beautiful wings, its long distance seasonal migration, and its stunning winter gatherings. Monarchs that live in the western United States usually travel south to the California coast which is the only place in the country that regularly hosts these beautiful creatures numbering in the thousands. Gathered together for winter, the monarchs cluster in groves of eucalyptus, Monterey pine, Monterey cypress, and redwood. In the spring, the butterflies disperse throughout the western states, seeking out milkweed plants on which to lay their eggs. Monarch caterpillars must eat only milkweed if they are to grow and develop into adult butterflies. They produce several generations of offspring which travel further across the landscape, only to migrate back to the same overwintering grounds of their ancestors.

If you want to be an important part of this spectacular migration, join the Western Monarch Count, featured in Episode 4 of THE CROWD & THE CLOUD. It’s an annual effort of volunteer citizen scientists to collect data on the status of monarch populations along the California coast during the overwintering season. From October through to March, volunteers collect data and submit it for researchers to analyze. The height of this volunteer effort occurs during the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count, a special segment of the project which runs for three weeks surrounding Thanksgiving. The Western Monarch Count now has over 20 years worth of data, which has led researchers to show that monarchs have undergone a dramatic decline. They estimate that 74% of the population in western U.S. has disappeared since the late 1990’s. Armed with this kind of data, NGOs such as the Xerces Society can promote conservation policies to help sustain this iconic species.

The Western Monarch Count project needs volunteers in California who can commit to visiting the same overwintering sites year after year. Roughly 100 overwintering sites from Mendocino to San Diego are monitored each year, but there may be as many as 450 sites that monarchs have either used in the past or are currently using. With your help, they can monitor even more sites, and further the understanding of monarch populations to inspire conservation and stewardship.

Additional Resources

Mayor’s Monarch Pledge

Mayors and other local government chief executives are taking action to help save the monarch butterfly.

Milkweed for Monarchs

Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on the leaves of milkweed, the only host plant for this iconic butterfly species.

Monarch Watch: Milkweed

Storage, treatment and planting of milkweeds seeds for monarch butterflies.