17 May 2016

Take a look skyward next time you're at your local park - you may spot a spectacular monarch butterfly cluster.

The annual monarch butterfly winter-cluster is under way in Christchurch, as the winged beauties seek shelter for the winter months.

Monarchs typically form large clusters, sometimes containing hundreds or thousands of butterflies, on trees in well-sheltered areas over the colder winter months.

In Christchurch, the butterflies don't go far afield and, as the weather gets colder, they head for the local parks and gardens.

Clusters have been reported this year in:

  • St James Park in Papanui
  • Abberley Park
  • The tall trees next to the river in the Pioneer Recreation Centre playground
  • Linwood Cemetery
  • Redwood park behind the tennis courts
  • Woodham Park
  • Bishopdale Park, in the big gum trees.

Little is known about monarch over-wintering behaviour in New Zealand, but it appears they only form over-wintering clusters in areas where the temperature regularly falls below 10 degrees Celsius.

Christchurch City Council Regional Parks Manager Kay Holder said late autumn was a great time of year to explore the local parks.

"It's a lovely time of year to go leaf crunching in our parks and to see these colourful creatures up close. It's a great excuse to take the kids out for an autumn ramble or evening picnic while checking out our local wildlife.

"On warm winter days the butterflies will fly from their clusters to feed on nectar. This is the best time to find the clusters and look for the large numbers flying around a tree."

Originally from America, the monarch butterfly has spread both naturally and by human intervention throughout the Pacific, Australia, parts of Southeast Asia, and to the islands in the Atlantic.