Back to News Update

Blown Off Course
Monarchs Stranded on Lake Michigan Beaches

Without the help of the wind, monarchs could not migate to Mexico. However, the wind can also be dangerous. This week, gale-force winds produced 18-foot waves on Lake Michigan and migrating monarchs got caught in the storm.

Based on reports from three separate observers, it appears monarchs were stranded along some 80 miles of Michigan shoreline, from Norton Shores to Manistee. Jennifer Anderson and her husband provided these photos and a detailed account (see below).

After seeing these images and reading the Andersons' notes, Dr. Lincoln Brower wrote,

"These are exceedingly important notes and photo documentation. Without this sort of citizen input, imagine how much we would never know about!"


Observations By Jennifer Anderson
Reported October 18, 2011

We discovered hundreds and hundreds of dead and dying monarchs on the beaches of Lake Michigan, from Ludington to Manistee. They are being buried alive in the sand due to gale force winds for the last 3 days, since Saturday (10/15/11). We stumbled upon the scene on Saturday at Maroon Creek. All we were trying was take some photos of the 18-foot waves. The wind was so strong that we could barely walk and yet here were hundreds, if not thousands, of monarchs clinging to anything they could find. We found them holding onto a seagull feather stuck in the sand, small pieces of dry grass, twigs, leaves, almost anything.

Monarch butterfly on beach along Lake Michigan after wind storm.
Stranded Monarchs
Monarch butterfly on beach along Lake Michigan after wind storm.
Monarch butterfly on beach along Lake Michigan after wind storm.
Lake Michigan Beach
Monarch butterfly migration, Long Island, New York
Gale force winds

It was a difficult event to witness. We've returned to the beaches each of the past 3 days, trying to relocate as many monarchs as we could to the back side of the dune, where they'd be out of the wind. The worst part is that many only look dead in the sand. When you lift up the sand, they start moving.

The worst area in recent days was the remote beach, Magoon Creek Nature Area, about 4 miles south of the city of Manistee city limits. We rescued as many as we could on the beach itself, carrying them up the dune. Then I realized that almost every other blade of beach grass had a monarch attached to it, totally battered, in most cases no wings, only the skeletal outlines of the wings, but still holding on for dear life. Just awful, awful stuff. Honestly, the numbers are enormous, going on for miles and miles and miles.

I went down to Ludington State Park Tuesday morning and walked about 1/2 mile along the beach and only found 3. They were in good shape physically compared to the ones that we'd been seeing. So I put them in my pocket and walked them out to some beach grass away from the wind.

Tuesday afternoon my husband and I went back down to the Lake Michigan beach in Ludington. It is called Stearns Beach and is the main city park.

We walked off approximately 1/10 of a mile and counted and photographed every monarch we found - living or dead - that was either on the beach itself or up to 15 feet into the beach grass. We counted approximately 100 butterflies, a few not monarchs. So I have 103 photos, with less than 1% duplication of an individual butterfly. Also took photographs of many of the beetles that are now feeding on the butterflies, as well as some photographs of the beach itself to get a sense of the terrain.

Tuesday was a "light" day compared to others, which I suspected it would be based on my earlier observations when I visited the beach that morning in Ludington State Park. I would say that on Tuesday 50% of the monarchs were dead, 25% alive but in varying degrees of fray, and 25% in good shape with no wing damage and still pretty feisty. Previous days there were many, many more, and almost all were still alive.

I think that the greatest loss was probably 20 miles north of here on the remote beaches outside of Manistee near Magoon Creek Nature area. I will send you s picture of that area also. It is different from here in Ludington, with very steep overlooks, perhaps trapping them right there on the beach.

To answer your question about whether any of the butterflies in the photos were alive, the answer is yes, about 50% were still alive Tuesday, even the ones laying partially imbedded in the sand. As soon as you gently lifted them out they started wiggling and flapping their wings. Many had almost no wings left, but yet were still alive and actually quite strong in my hands when I was carrying them to shelter. I carried all 100 of them to two sheltered areas in the beach grass on the back side of the dunes. When I stopped to check and drop off the last few when we were leaving yesterday, almost all of the ones that were alive had lined up next to one another on small blades of grass in the sheltered area and were gently flexing their wings almost in unison.

I doubt that any survived, as it got down near freezing Tuesday night, but such is life, I guess. We will probably go down there later today and take another look around. We've so enjoyed the huge numbers of Monarchs's here in Ludington all summer. So this event is just so sad. But we're glad we could let someone know what was/is going on, and that our observations and photographs are of value.