The overwintering stage in New Zealand starts in April or May. This is when swarms of Monarch butterflies form regularly to overwinter at places around the country.
On warm sunny winter days, when temperatures are over 16 degrees, you get to see a few monarchs gliding around looking for nectar nearby. Although, most of the time, during winter, Monarchs will hang in a peaceful dormant position, totally still and peaceful.
When the Monarchs form in big clusters they are known to be in “Diapause” (resting, hanging for the winter). Many of these butterflies survive the whole winter as a dormant group, only to revive and mate in the following spring (around September/October) when the warmer weather sets in.
These Monarchs that overwinter in the trees live for about 7 – 9 months. That’s if they survive the strong frosts, storms, hail and wind conditions through the harsh winters. Whereas the Monarch butterflies that emerge during the summer months live approximately 6 to 8 weeks, once they have mated and laid all their eggs, and their job is done for the insect kingdom.
Temperature and food supply have a big influence on the size of the next summer’s monarch population. A few cold, bitter winters and heavy rain may result in a drastic reduction in the number of Monarchs and it will take a few years for numbers to re-establish again. In saying that, I’ve also witnessed hundreds of Monarchs clinging in the trees without letting go while it’s been blowing a gail! They are such small and fragile creatures who are really resilient to the winds and strong enough to cling on to the branch with their feet swinging side to side. This is why they choose to form clusters in trees in parks that have shelter from the brunt of the winds – Monarchs are are so clever!
In Auckland it’s quite common to get caterpillars all year around, although numbers are hugely reduced and far fewer sightings of monarchs occur in the winter. Whereas in the South Island we’re only able to see Monarchs in winter at the overwintering sites due to difference in temperatures. Visiting these parks with your children and family is amazing, so take a picnic and, of course, your camera. Relax while enjoying the experience above you in the trees.
Redwood park is great for kids as the Monarchs are quite low down and my toddler even got to spot them, then quickly enjoyed kicking and crunching the leaves on the ground.
The colours in the parks are so vibrant at this time of year; I’m beginning to enjoy autumn more and more each year. At first, you may not spot the clusters as sometimes a bunch of Monarchs will look like a branch of dead leaves just hanging in the tree. Be patient and have a good look around, also try to go on a sunny day and you’ll see them gliding around you looking for nectar in the park.
Luckily, the people of Christchurch are spoilt and have many places to spot the large clusters of monarch butterflies. I’m fortunate to have at least 6 overwintering parks within 10 minutes drive of my house to visit regularly.
Below I’ve put together an updated list for autumn 2017. I can confirm these are current overwintering spots in NZ. Please share and tell your friends, pre-schools, and family. By sharing and having easy access to this list, we can all experience this magnificent joy, and witness nature at its best. It’s absolutely amazing!
Even if you only like butterflies a little, you’ll surely love them even more once you have seen them in huge numbers. The magical thing that I don’t understand, which astounds me, is how these Monarchs know where to go during the winter to a place where their ancestors hung the year before, without ever having been there themselves.
Ruru Lawn Cemetery in Bromley has been removed from the list. This was a popular spot for many years but we haven’t sited any this year. Anyone who can confirm sightings anywhere around the country that are not on the list below, please can you email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll add them in – many thanks!!
If you’d like more information regarding overwintering in New Zealand and in-depth information about the magnificent migration of millions of Monarch butterflies that travel over 2,800 miles, journeying from the northwestern United States and southern Canada to the pine and fir forests west of Mexico City in the mountains, check out my book.
- Burnside Park – in the big gum trees
- St James’ Park, Papanui – above the wooden blue slide, high up in the Elm tree.
- Risingholme Park, Opawa
- Abberley Park, St Albans – walk along the main entrance in Abberley Crescent and continue past the building on your left. Take the right hand fork in the path and look into the tops of the trees on the left side. See inserted picture tallest tree 3/4 up on the right they are clustered.
- Pioneer Recreation Centre – the tall trees next to the river near the playground.
- Redwood Park – behind the tennis courts above the path.
- Woodham Park – Linwood near the playground on tree. Look for the tree with the plaque on it that reads Ginko “Maidenhair” Tree.
- Bishopdale Park – in the big gum trees.
- North Canterbury – Victoria Park in Rangiora look for the conifer trees.
- Larch Reserve – Casebrook – as you enter from Larch place they are in the large tree towards the back entrance of the park. 10 metres away from the playground.
- Temuka Recreation Reserve – Temuka
- Aigantighe Art Gallery in the Himalayan cedar tree Timaru
- Ashbury Park – Timaru in the broadleaf tree
- Temuka golf course in the Macrocarpa trees
- Timaru Botanic Gardens in the Tasmanian Blackwood tree
- Apollo Park – on Apollo Parade, Milson, they are on about 8 willows trees
- Washbourn Gardens
A BIG thank you to all the butterfly musketeers that visited and checked the site that I couldn’t get to for report sitings.