The Monarch butterfly is one of Mother Nature's most fascinating and beautiful gifts. They have an incredibly complex migratory journey and an awe-inspiring metamorphosis pattern. Unfortunately, studies have shown that the Monarch butterfly may go extinct within our lifetime. The Eastern and Western Monarch butterfly have both shown sharp and startling decline in the last decade, and in 2018, the populations dropped more precipitously than ever.
Each year, Monarchs embark upon the most complicated migration of any insect known. Monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains travel thousands of miles to overwinter in a forest in Mexico. The Western Monarch travels down the West Coast to overwinter in the eucalyptus trees and other butterfly friendly spaces of southern California. These overwintering spots are described as a mosaic of black and orange, with butterflies smothering entire patches of forest.
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is a nonprofit group that conducts an annual census of the Western Monarch. Having completed its annual count in California, the group reported a shattering 86% population decline from 2017. But the population of Western Monarchs has been falling for years, and is just a small fraction — about three percent — of what it was in the 1980s.
In 2017, scientists estimated that Western Monarchs faced a 72 percent chance of extinction in the next 20 years if nothing is done to reverse their decline. The Eastern Monarch is also in critical trouble; studies have shown that its population has fallen a frightening 90 percent in the last two decades.
Scientists say the increased use of herbicides, most notably Roundup, is largely to blame for this near extinction. The aggressive use of this weed killer has decimated the population of native milkweed, which is the sole food source of the Monarch caterpillar. Other factors such as deforestation and rapid development have contributed to this loss.
Genetically modified corn and soybeans have been designed to withstand spraying with this herbicide. With massive swaths of the country being planted in GMO crops, the use of Roundup has skyrocketed. Native milkweed, which is typically prevalent along the edges of farmland, is being eradicated by the new zero-tolerance weed policy that GMO farming has created.
Aside from its importance as a wildflower pollinator, the Monarch is considered a canary in the coal mine. Because of the species’ relationship to environmental pressure, the Monarch’s population health is an indicator of the health of an overall ecosystem.
Without intervention, this once-ubiquitous symbol of American biodiversity could be lost forever. Fortunately, scientists report that this dire situation can be reversed through immediate and sustained action.
You can start by planting your native milkweed species and allowing existing wild milkweed habitats to thrive. Also ditching the use of herbicides in favor of more environmentally friendly weed suppression methods will help to restore the beleaguered pollinator population.
You can do you part to help our monarchs and plant a beautiful sanctuary! The Monarch butterfly’s life really does depend on milkweed. It is the only source of food for Monarch caterpillars, and adult butterflies lay their eggs on the underside of milkweed leaves.
There are over 100 species of milkweed, all bearing the Latin “asclepias,” named for the Greek god of healing and medicine. This incredible plant makes a gorgeous ornamental and will invite hoards of beautiful monarchs to your garden.
Be sure to plant the correct milkweed that is native to your region. You can include milkweed in flower beds, borders or in the naturalized landscape. The ideal conditions for a milkweed patch is a sunny and sheltered location, perfect for the monarch’s life cycle.
Butterfly Milkweed is a perennial type milkweed that is native throughout the eastern and southern regions of the country. It is durable and long lived, a perfect habitat for the Eastern Monarch.
Red Swamp is a perennial rosy-pink flowered milkweed that is the best choice for moist locations, as it is native to wet ground throughout much of North America. This species supports the Monarch and other butterfly populations, as well as bees and hummingbirds.
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