Monarch Butterflies Just Lost Another Third of Their Population

While international efforts are underway to protect iconic monarch butterflies from disappearing, the latest population count has found their numbers have dropped by nearly one-third since last year.

According to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, in the 1990s, an estimated one billion monarchs embarked on an epic annual migration. Their journey takes them from sites in Canada and the U.S. to wintering grounds in California and Mexico, where they find shelter and warmth among oyamel fir trees in the winter.

Sadly, over the past 15 years they’ve lost millions of acres of habitat and the number of monarchs has steadily dropped by 80 percent, or more by some estimates.

Now the latest overwintering count shows they’ve declined by 27 percent since last year’s count, which has raised serious concerns they may disappear forever. The drop is being attributed to severe winter storms that killed millions of them last spring in Mexico, but they still face a host of other threats that are putting their future in jeopardy.

They face high mortality rates along their route from other threats that range from predators and parasites to a loss of habitat from logging. In the spring, they travel North in search of milkweed plants – the only plant that monarchs lay eggs on and caterpillars eat – but these plants are being destroyed by the herbicide glyphosate, which is sprayed on fields where genetically modified Roundup-ready corn and soy crops are grown.

According to the Center for Food Safety, the U.S. Geological Survey found that it’s likely that monarchs east of the Rockies could decline to such low levels that they face extinction, while researchers estimate the probability that the monarch migration could collapse within the next 20 years is between 11 percent and 57 percent.

“The monarch butterfly is still in really big trouble and still needs really big help if we are going to save this beloved orange and black wonder for future generations,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

While the latest count brings devastating news, a lot is being done to help ensure these butterflies remain part of the landscape from the local to federal level. There’s also hope they may yet get the protection they need under the Endangered Species Act, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently considering.

“The monarch migration is a phenomenon like no other. But now, it’s imperiled by forces the monarchs themselves cannot control. The reduction in the area of forest they occupied this year – most probably due to the high mortality caused by storms and cold weather last year – is a clear reminder for the three countries that they must step up actions to protect breeding, feeding and migratory habitat,” said Omar Vidal, CEO of WWF Mexico.

For more info about ways to get involved in efforts to save monarchs that include creating habitat or participating in citizen science projects, visit the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Save the Monarch, the Xerces Society, and the Monarch Joint Venture .

If you’re looking for milkweed plants, check out the Xerces Society’s Milkweed Seed Finder and Monarch Watch’s Milkweed Market, which both offer native seeds and seed guides by region for planting.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

138 comments

Marie W
Marie W6 months ago

Thank you for posting.

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william Miller
william Miller7 months ago

thanks

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Richelle R
Richelle R8 months ago

We need to stop using poisonous products and supporting chemical companies. Let's protect butterflies and bees instead. As well as all nature. Thank you.

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Richelle R
Richelle R8 months ago

We need to stop using poisonous products. We need to protect the butterflies, bees and other beneficial life and stop supporting the chemical companies and the death they create. Thank you.

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Nicole H
Nicole Heindryckx9 months ago

There is a lot of crying and yelling for safe and healthy food. But when I read this article I must conclude that this does not help a lot. The fact that nearly 1/3rd of the Monarch butterflies have disappeared compared to last year means that lots and lots of dangerous chemicals are used in the food production. Round-up is known now for 40 years, or longer, but apparently NO government is strong enough to prohibit the use of this poison. Round-Up was manufactured in the Antwerp plant of Monsanto, that's why I know that it is being used for such long time. I was working for an insurance company when a 40 ft container had fallen, and countless number of drums with round-up were spilled on the highway. And then I was mid 20's, whereas I am now 65. When butterflies die, it is not good for us either. No more time is to be wasted, and use of dangerous chemicals is to be forbidden without any further delay. Of course I am not a specialist, but nature itself has so many ways to protect themselves or certain animals. I can not imagine that the chemical industry has not the knowledge to produce certain insecticides or herbicides that are not "all round" but are specifically for only a very limited number of dangerous insects and a limited number of plants, so that less harmless insects / animals / plants are killed by the millions. There must also be a political good-will and companies like Monsanto should be obliged to stop the production of produ

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aj E
aj E9 months ago

horrible. petition signed.

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Emma W
Emma W9 months ago

Imagine a world without butterflies! Too sad. Save the bees and the butterflies!

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Stephanie B
Stephanie B9 months ago

Thank you. Planted milkweed seeds for this year in the gardens where I work. Most of my clients are interested in helping the butterflies.

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Patricia Harris
Patricia Harris9 months ago

shana l said ''So many endangered species will soon be extinct.'' Not on my watch, Sister!

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Chen Boon Fook
Chen Boon Fook9 months ago

thanks

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