Monarch Butterflies Are Two Steps Closer to Extinction

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monarch butterflies
Courtesy of Peter Miller (Flickr CC0)

One of nature’s most beautiful creatures is two steps from becoming extinct, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Scientists placed the iconic orange-and-black insect on the endangered list on July 21, 2022.

The IUCN estimates that the population of monarch butterflies in the United States has declined between 22% and 72% over the past decade. Nick Haddad, a conservation biologist at Michigan State University and not directly involved in the listing, stated they were worried about the rate of decline of the butterflies.

monarch butterflies
Courtesy of Adam (Flickr CC0)

“It’s very easy to imagine how very quickly this butterfly could become even more imperiled,” he added. Haddad estimates the decline of the monarch butterflies population to be around 85% to 95% since the 1990s.

Every year the monarch butterflies embark on a marvelous migratory phenomenon by traveling 1,200 to 2,800 miles or more. They travel from southeast Canada and the northeast U.S. to the mountain forests in central Mexico. The climate conditions in this region allow the monarch butterflies to hibernate from the beginning of November to around mid-March.

Their scientific name is Danaus plexippus, which literally means “sleepy transformation” in Greek.

Adult monarch butterflies possess two pairs of bright orange-red wings that feature black veins and white spots along the edge. The males are slightly bigger than the females and have distinguishing black dots along the veins of their wings.

Unfortunately, climate change is a threatening factor to disrupt the monarch butterfly’s annual migration pattern. The change in both their wintering and breeding grounds is devastating their population.

Harsher, wetter winters could be lethal to the insects. Hotter, drier summers could cause them to shift their habitats to more suitable ones farther north. Abnormal weather patterns, like drought and rainfall, in Canada and the U.S. breeding grounds may have caused the death of adult monarch butterflies. Climate change also affects vegetation growth. Less plant food for caterpillars means fewer butterflies.

For years people have enjoyed the sight of millions of monarch butterflies undertaking the longest migration of any insect species known to man. Anna Walker, a conservation biologist at New Mexico BioPark Society, described it as “a true spectacle and incites such awe.”

The U.S. has not listed them under the Endangered Species Act. However, many environmental groups believe they should be listed.

Written by Sheena Robertson

Sources:

NPR: Beloved monarch butterflies are now listed as endangered
Associated Press: Beloved monarch butterflies now listed as endangered
WWF: Monarch Butterfly Facts

Top and Featured Image Courtesy of Peter Miller‘s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Adam’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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