Many are familiar with the monarch butterfly, but did you know these important pollinators are in trouble? Over the past 20 years, the number of monarchs in North America has declined by over 90 percent! Loss of breeding and overwintering habitat, increased pesticide use, and climate change are some of the risks monarchs face. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced that listing the monarch as an endangered or threatened species was “warranted but precluded,” meaning there are other species in greater trouble that need to be listed first.
Every fall, millions of monarchs across the northeast begin a journey to their wintering grounds in Mexico—a migration of up to 3,000 miles! However, don’t expect to see the same butterflies return to your backyard next year. You’re more likely to see their great-grandchildren or great-great-grandchildren. Every year, there are four generations of monarchs. When the fall migrants leave the wintering areas and head north in the spring, they will stop and breed as soon as they reach areas with milkweed—the only plant the monarch caterpillar eats—long before reaching the Northeast. The next two generations will continue to move north as the monarchs settle into their summer range. The fourth generation becomes the new fall migrants, starting the cycle over again.
Ways you can help:
- This spring, plant native milkweed and wildflowers to create butterfly habitat; caterpillars only eat milkweed, but adults drink nectar from a variety of flowers.
- Avoid using pesticides with neonicotinoids.
- Report monarch sightings.
- Learn more at Monarch Joint Venture.
Fun Fact: Monarchs are able to store toxins from the milkweed they eat as caterpillars. These toxins, called cardenolides, make them very distasteful to predators!
Photo of monarch caterpillar by Sandy Van Vranken.