Ask an Ecologist: Do Monarch Butterflies Overwinter in North Carolina?

Monarch butterflies on a milkweed plant

Photo by Michelle Jewell

Mid-November days spent in your garden are becoming fewer and farther in between, but you might still spot the flutter of the unmistakable black and orange monarch butterflies making way in the crisp air. 

This is exactly what happened to Tamsin from Burlington, NC when she wrote us to ask, “Do monarch butterflies overwinter in North Carolina?”

Entomologist Elsa Youngsteadt answered the call:  

Fall migration monarch “flyways” as represented by Monarch Watch.

It seems like you must have a straggler,” says Youngsteadt. “Peak migration through our area is usually in October. Monarchs cannot withstand a hard frost, so an overwintering population in NC is still unrealistic. If your butterfly gets a serious move on, it might be able to stay ahead of the frost and make it to Florida, where some populations do overwinter. I wish it the best!”

Butterfly belvederes like Tasmin can report monarch sightings to two databases: Journey North and Monarch Watch.

If you have a question for an ecologist, feel free to email me at majewell@ncsu.edu.

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