One World Conservation is thrilled to announce the addition of our first blog series, Endangered Species 101. Every post will cover a different threatened or endangered species, how they are being impacted in their wild environments, and how you can make a difference. Please give a warm welcome to our blog writer, Clarice, a passionate high school student who is dedicated to educating and helping protect endangered species across the world! So without further ado, the Monarch butterfly!
The monarch butterflies are the only known insects to make a two-way migration. Their route, spanning some 2,000 miles (just one way), reaches from the northern U.S. to the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico and southern California.
In late August, monarchs begin their migration, one by one, thousand by thousand, their summer breeding range in the northern U.S. heading south; it only takes one generation to reach the Oyamel Fir forests in Mexico, or if migrating down the Pacific coast instead, the Eucalyptus trees in southern California. In enormous, orderly clusters of patterned wings, the butterflies huddle together upon trees, inside caves, and anywhere else they can find to stay warm during their winter hibernation.
Come spring, the butterflies migrate north again to return to their summer breeding grounds within three months. The distance is covered by four generations, during which, en route eggs of the next in line for the relay marathon are lain upon milkweed leaves, the only plants the larvae feed on.
Threats to Species
Two of the major factors in the decline of the monarchs in recent years is, unsurprisingly, climate patterns in recent years and the loss of habitat.
Habitat loss can be divided in 2 categories: winter sites and milkweed fields. Loss of Oyamel Fir forests, is largely due to logging/illegal logging.
The loss of milkweed, the most impactful cause of monarch endangerment, however, is something most directly affected by individuals, solely the act of keeping manicured and weed-free lawns, as well as the larger scale corporate buildings, parking lots, and commercial corn farms.
The ideal picture of today’s globalized suburban landscape sets stray plants up for destruction. These social norms and expectations, are a root problem one scientist referred to as the “green desert,” i.e. cities, where the urban sprawl and the expected pure lawns are detrimental to milkweeds, and subsequently monarch butterflies.
In the past 20 years, 165 million acres of habitat has been lost, including a third of vital summer breeding grounds, and monarch butterfly population has declined by 80%, For every 20 butterflies, there would have been 80 more 20 years ago. In another 20 years, there’s an 11-57% chance their migration chain will collapse entirely.
How You Can Help
For anyone that may have some spare land around the garage curb or along rosebushes in the backyard, check out the local nursery and plant some milkweed seeds around. One fringe of a manicured lawn at a time, we can bring water back to these “green deserts.” Take your kids to local monarch butterfly events (e.g. butterfly tagging, release, milkweed planting, or education-based ones). Commercial farmers also have many alternative milkweed friendly herbicides out on the market. Join illegal logging protts virtually and locally if within reach. Let our elected leaders know about your concern for monarch butterflies by writing to your state representatives. For additional information, check out the fellow conservation groups more specifically involved below.
The concerning status quo of the monarch butterflies is a one that’s relatively within reach for individuals- efforts quickly yields visible results. Milkweeds planted in coming spring would attract butterflies either within that year or the next, depending on situation. Afterall, no one ever would say colorful wings fluttering around in their garden is a distressing scene to watch.
Milkweed friendly herbicides/pesticides:
Directions for your milkweed garden: