Until the first or second week of February, thousands of brightly colored monarch butterflies will continue to descend upon Goleta to find refuge in the Goleta Butterfly Grove.

The grove is located on Hollister Avenue and is adjacent to the Sperling Preserve on the Ellwood Mesa, an open space right outside of Isla Vista that includes 137 acres of natural terrain.

According to Luz Reyes-Martin, Butterfly Docent Program Coordinator for the grove, approximately 2,500 monarch butterflies are at the grove this year. Including a few smaller sites in Goleta, about 10,000 have migrated to the area from the Rocky Mountains this year.

“That’s a lot lower than our counts from previous years. A couple of years ago we had upwards of 50,000,” Reyes-Martin said.

Reyes-Martin said the butterflies start coming in mid-October and are mostly gone by Valentine’s Day, putting on an impressive display when their numbers peak.”

“The best time of day to view them is about mid-day, when there’s sunlight in the grove, because the butterflies can’t fly when the temperature is below 65 degrees and you want them to fly around,” Reyes-Martin said.  “That’s what everybody wants to see.”

Clusters of butterflies are best seen from the main viewing area, which is roped off and surrounded by eucalyptus trees.

“When they’re clustered in the trees, it’s a form of camouflage, and it’s a little bit harder to notice them because they look like dead leaves,” Reyes-Martin said.

According to Reyes-Martin, people come from all over the country to see the butterflies.

“We get lots of people driving from San Diego, from other states and from Northern California,” she said. About 50 or 60 people take advantage of docent-led tours between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekends, but many more people visit throughout the week.

The Goleta Butterfly Grove is also a popular field trip destination, particularly for elementary school students, according to Reyes-Martin.

“There are 17 or 18 different school groups that we’re doing field trips for, and that’s only in the month of January, so we do get a lot of interest from local schools,” Reyes-Martin said.

Shemei Wang, a third-year psychology major, visited the grove and enjoyed her experience thoroughly.

“I think everyone should go,” Wang said. “You don’t want to miss your chance to go when it’s just down the street. Take a break from studying and go enjoy nature.”

The grove is open to the public from dawn to dusk. It is free to visit and docents are available for guided tours between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekends.


This story is a Daily Nexus online exclusive.