DID YOU KNOW?
The Monarch’s bright orange color is a warning for predators to back off because it is poisonous.
The Monarch is one of America’s most recognized butterflies and famous pollinator working hard to keep nature in harmony. When going from flower to flower drinking nectar, butterflies (and bees) aid in pollination which helps in the growth and reproduction of all the colorful plants and flowers we see everyday.
The monarch butterfly lives in most of the United States and Mexico, and is known for the great distance it travels every year, flying more than 3,000 miles for their migratory journey. Many people who want to create a safe home and place for monarchs to breed plant milkweed because these striking butterflies have the most unique relationship to this plant. While their caterpillars and adult butterflies rely on milkweed for food and nectar, the adult butterflies also lay their eggs on milkweed providing them with the necessary protection right from the start of a their life.
The milkweed flower has chemicals that are toxic to most animals but can be safely consumed by monarchs and this is what makes both the caterpillar and the adult butterfly poisonous. Milkweed is not only an important food source but also nature’s own way of protecting them against natural predators.
The species is currently listed as near threatened by the IUCN. However their status is currently under review by the USFWS and a decision on whether to include them on the Endangered Species List will be made by June 2019.
The monarch caterpillars are suffering because the milkweed plants they rely upon for food, nourishment, and as a place to lay their eggs, are losing their place in nature. This added stress of losing their source of food is causing Monarchs to struggle. Activities like development and logging at their overwintering sites in California and Mexico have destroyed their homes. This has made it difficult for these butterflies to settle down and survive as they once did. In about just 20 years, their numbers have gone from over a billion to under 50 million, and they are still decreasing.
Even though their conservation status won’t be finalized until 2019, their loss is being felt. Many conservation organizations, groups, and governments, have rallied behind support for the monarch butterfly.
The Great Monarch Migration, The Jungle Diaries
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation was one of the pioneers of monarch butterfly conservation in the 1980s. Today, they have one of the largest monarch conservation team in the U.S. and work with state, federal, and international groups to advocate for their protection. They have worked with the native seed industry to improve the availability of native milkweeds and have created regional nectar plant guides to encourage native plants for monarchs. They also work with monarch researchers to answer pressing questions about them, monitor their population, and conduct workshops to educate and spread the word about monarchs each year.
Our friends at Xerces Society suggest that the following actions can help protect the Monarch Butterfly:
Plant flowers- especially native flowers which attract monarchs and other pollinators. Check out Xerces Monarch Nectar Guides.
Plant native milkweed (unless you live on the central or northern California coast). Check out Xerces Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper to find out more
Skip the pesticides- buy local, organic or spray-free fruits and vegetables; avoid using pesticides, especially insecticides in your garden
Participate in citizen science! Record sightings of milkweed and monarchs, test butterflies for disease and parasitoids, and/or tag butterflies to help scientists understand their migration. Check out to learn about great monarch citizen science projects.
Keep learning! Monarch Joint Venture has a lot of good information about monarchs and their conservation, including a webinar series.