Monarch butterflies listed as endangered: What can you do to help?

ICUN updates its Red List to include monarch butterflies

Monarch butterfly (Pixabay)

Monarch butterflies join giant pandas, tigers, blue whales, sea otters, snow leopards, and Asian elephants on the endangered species list.

The sweet orange and black insect you’re used to seeing in your garden is inching closer and closer to extinction as their numbers plummet. Here is what we found on why their numbers are dwindling as well as what you can do to help them.

Monarch butterflies are now an endangered species

The migratory monarch butterfly or Danaus plexippus plexippus known for its beautiful wings and annual migration, has entered the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (ICUN) Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered. It is threatened by habitat destruction and climate change.

The ICUN Red List now includes 147,517 species, of which 41,459 are threatened with extinction, according to the ICUN.

“Today’s Red List update highlights the fragility of nature’s wonders, such as the unique spectacle of monarch butterflies migrating across thousands of kilometres,” said Dr. Bruno Oberle, IUCN Director General. “To preserve the rich diversity of nature we need effective, fairly governed protected and conserved areas, alongside decisive action to tackle climate change and restore ecosystems. In turn, conserving biodiversity supports communities by providing essential services such as food, water and sustainable jobs.”

The migratory monarch butterfly is a subspecies of the monarch butterfly. The ICUN reports that over the last decade, the population has decreased anywhere between 22% and 72%.

The ICUN accredits this decrease to legal and illegal deforestation and logging to make space for urban development and agriculture. This has already destroyed substantial areas of their winter shelter in Mexico and California.

Not only are habitats being destroyed, but pesticides and herbicides that are used in intensive agriculture, kill butterflies and milkweed, which is the host plant that the larvae of the monarch butterfly feed on.

According to the ICUN, climate change is also impacting migratory monarch butterfly populations. Droughts have limited the growth of milkweed and increases the frequency of wildfires. These extreme temperatures also trigger earlier migrations before milkweed is available. Severe weather has killed millions of butterflies.

How can we help the butterflies?

There is still hope for the monarch butterfly. Experts are urging people to use fewer pesticides in personal home gardens. Bugs are good!

Aside from reducing pesticide use, the biggest way you can help monarch butterflies is to promote the planting and growth of milkweed.

A generic image of flower swamp milkweed. (pixabay)

Milkweed is a wildflower, that isn’t really a weed at all. This plant, native to North American fields, wetlands, and prairies, is the sole host plant for monarch butterflies.

They require full sun and they spread quickly. Experts recommend planting them in an area where you can better control the spread, such as the back of the border or in a corner. A spot that is protected from the wind will also help to slow the spread of seeds as well as give the butterflies a more hospitable environment.

It is recommended to plant the seeds in the fall so they are exposed to cold and moist conditions. This way, they will grow in the spring. If you buy a starter plant, plant it in the spring after any threat of frost goes away.

The Xerces Society, an organization dedicated to invertebrate conservation, has many resources on the conservation of monarch butterflies as well as information on milkweed.

On their site, they include a resource called “Milkweed Seed Finder” where you can view places to purchase milkweed seeds. You can find this tool here.

Read: Pollinator gardening: How you can help monarch butterflies, other pollinators in Michigan

About the Author:

Morgan is a Digital Editor and has been with WDIV since May of 2022. She is also studying political science and communications at Wayne State University.