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Why? “Beloved monarch butterflies now listed as endangered”

… “It’s just a devastating decline”

As a young child in Pennsylvania, nothing was as exciting and stimulating as the appearance of a Monarch Butterfly in late spring and early summer.

We were warned by our mother to not pick them up, but we did anyway, albeit very carefully, before allowing them to fly off to the lilies and other flowers in our back yard.

That was then … and this is now.

The monarch butterfly fluttered a step closer to extinction Thursday, as scientists put the iconic orange-and-black insect on the endangered list because of its fast dwindling numbers.

Beloved monarch butterflies now listed as endangered,” Associated Press, July 21, 2022

That is simply heartbreaking.


A student of mine from California was working on an essay about the decline of the Monarchs in the Bay Area, and he produced a graph that was simply frightening.

Produced by the Xerces Society for Inverterbrate Conservation, it showed that the number of monarchs reported declined from 1.2 million in 1997 to just under 20,000 in 2019.

The decline has been precipitous over the past three decades,

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature added the migrating monarch butterfly for the first time to its “red list” of threatened species and categorized it as "endangered" — two steps from extinct.

The group estimates that the population of monarch butterflies in North America has declined between 22 percent and 72 percent over 10 years, depending on the measurement method.

“What we’re worried about is the rate of decline,” said Nick Haddad, a conservation biologist at Michigan State University. “It’s very easy to imagine how very quickly this butterfly could become even more imperiled.”

Haddad, who was not directly involved in the listing, estimates that the population of monarch butterflies he studies in the eastern United States has declined between 85 percent and 95 percent since the 1990s.

Beloved monarch butterflies now listed as endangered,” Associated Press, July 21, 2022

The “longest migration of any insect species”

The Monarchs undergo something of an amazing move from one part of the world to another,

n North America, millions of monarch butterflies undertake the longest migration of any insect species known to science.

After wintering in the mountains of central Mexico, the butterflies migrate to the north, breeding multiple generations along the way for thousands of miles. The offspring that reach southern Canada then begin the trip back to Mexico at the end of summer.

“It’s a true spectacle and incites such awe,” said Anna Walker, a conservation biologist at New Mexico BioPark Society, who was involved in determining the new listing.

A smaller group spends winters in coastal California, then disperses in spring and summer across several states west of the Rocky Mountains. This population has seen an even more precipitous decline than the eastern monarchs, although there was a small bounce back last winter …

The United States has not listed monarch butterflies under the Endangered Species Act, but several environmental groups believe it should be listed.

Beloved monarch butterflies now listed as endangered,” Associated Press, July 21, 2022

The death of milkweed

Why are these American icons dying off?

Monarchs play a unique and prominent role in the imagination of our country, especially considering they’re insects. These creatures are ambassadors of nature in people's gardens and symbols of summertime outdoors.

Yet these butterflies, once a familiar sight, are plummeting toward extinction due to landscape-scale threats from pesticides, development and climate change. That's why the Center is working hard to win them protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Monarchs have declined 85% in two decades. The western population — which overwinters in California as part of its international migration — has suffered a heartbreaking 99% decline. Overall the migrating populations are less than half the size they need to be to avoid extinction.

Monarchs are threatened by pesticides — including toxic neonicotinoids and herbicides, which are killing off the milkweed plants they need to survive — as well as urban development and climate change.

“Saving the Monarch Butterfly,” Center for Biological Diversity, 2023

Without milkweed, no caterpillars.

Without caterpillars, no Monarchs.

I am not certain if they can be saved, but if not, I wonder where this planet is heading.

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