Create, Conserve, Protect…
The Monarch butterfly migration is a phenomenon, mainly across North America, where millions of Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) migrate from the United States and Canada to mountains in central Mexico, where they wait out the winter until conditions favor a return flight in the spring. Eastern Monarchs spend summers east of the Rocky Mountain range and travel over 3,000 miles to overwinter in Oyamel forests in the mountains of Central and South West Mexico. The western Monarch population spends summers west of the Rocky Mountain range in North America and overwinters in California along the Pacific coast near Santa Cruz and San Diego.
The monarch migration is truly one of the world’s greatest natural wonders yet it is threatened by habitat loss at overwintering grounds in Mexico and throughout breeding areas in the United States and Canada. Monarch butterflies have declined an average of 80% over the past 20 years. From the 1990’s to the 2020 winter count, the Eastern Monarch population has declined from 1 billion to 155 million butterflies.
Status Update: In a press release on December, 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its decision to declare the monarch a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act. With this decision, the monarch becomes a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and its status will be reviewed each year until it is no longer a candidate. The decision acknowledges the need for continued vigilance due to the numerous threats to the population while emphasizing the need to continue support for programs that create and sustain habitats for monarchs.
On February 2021, World Wildlife Fund Mexico in collaboration with CONANP and the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR) announced that the total forest area occupied by overwintering monarch colonies was 2.1 hectares, a 26% decrease from the previous season (see https://monarchwatch.org/blog/2021/02/25/monarch-population-status-45/), making 2020 a bad year for the butterflies.
This year’s count of the Western Monarch was extremely low with only 28,429 monarchs counted compared to 192,668 butterflies counted at the same sites in the previous year. This drop-off is even more concerning when compared to the estimated 4.5 million monarchs overwintering in California in the 1980s; the number of monarchs has plummeted by 99%, and fewer than 2,000 total butterflies were counted this winter.
Reasons for the decline: According to Dr. Chip Taylor, Director of Monarch Watch (monarchwatch.org), “We are losing habitat in this country at a rapid pace of 6,000 acres per day, or a loss of 2.2 million acres per year. Further, the overuse of herbicides along roadsides and elsewhere is turning diverse areas that support Monarchs, pollinators, and other wildlife into grass-filled landscapes that support very few species. The adoption of genetically modified soybean and corn have further reduced Monarch habitat. Climate change impacts Monarch Butterfly migration patterns and, in turn, their survival. Not only does climate change influence climate cues that Monarchs use to navigate and begin their migration, but it also impacts their food sources and overwintering habitats. If these trends continue, Monarchs are certain to decline, threatening the very existence of their magnificent migration.”
Whether monarchs rebound this year will depend on the number of returning monarch females, nectar and host plant availability, March and early April temperatures, and then the conditions from May to September.
Create, Conserve, Protect Monarch habitats: To restore habitats for Monarchs, pollinators and wildlife in general, Monarch Watch has a nationwide landscape restoration program called “Bring Back the Monarchs”. The goals of this program are to restore 20 milkweed species to their native ranges throughout the United States and to encourage planting of nectar-producing native flowers that support adult Monarchs and other pollinators.
You can help! Monarchs cannot survive without Milkweed plants, as it is the only host plant eaten by newly hatched Monarch eggs and caterpillars, but you can help! By planting Milkweed with some of the Monarch’s favorite nectar producing flowers every year in your yard, garden, or community, and reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides and herbicides, you will be providing food and shelter for Monarchs and other native butterflies and bees. I truly believe that by caring for native wildlife in our own backyard or in our community, each of us can make a difference and keep these beautiful butterflies alive for future generations!
Perennial Host plants for Monarchs – Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
Annual and perennial Nectar plants – Zinnia (Zinnia elegans), Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia), Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Indian Blanket (Gaillardia pulchella), Pincushion Flower (Scabiosa), Bee Balm (Monarda)
Links and Resources
- MonarchWatch.org – Education, conservation, research of Monarchs
- http://www.monarchjointventure.org– Partnering across the U.S. to conserve the Monarch migration
- https://www.nwf.org/garden-for-wildlife – Creating a natural and sustainable garden that helps wildlife
- https://wildones.org/ – Healing the earth one yard at a time