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Monarch Butterfly Crisis


The monarch butterfly is a species in crisis!

Its key threats are the loss of milkweed in the USA, use of pesticides, adverse weather conditions, and deforestation.

Each fall,
eastern monarchs (east of the Rockies) travel to central Mexico, while western monarchs migrate to the California Coast, where they over-winter before returning for breeding.

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Eastern monarch update:

Results of the eastern migration showed the monarchs occupied an estimated 2.21 hectares of forest during the winter of 2022-2023; a 22% decrease from the previous season of 2.84 ha.

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All in all, monarchs had a bad year due to a sequence of unfavorable weather events (e.g. droughts in Texas) and late arrival at the overwintering sites. While low numbers are something of a concern, in recent years monarchs recovered from low numbers in 2012 (1.19 ha), 2013 (0.67 ha) and 2014 (1.13 ha). They can do so again given improved weather conditions and preservation of their habitat.

Western monarch update:

For the Thanksgiving period (weeks before heavy rains battered the California coast), the Xerces Society reported 335,479 butterflies counted. The results were a welcome reprieve from a total of less than 2,000 individuals counted in 2020. Yet the butterflies remain far from the low millions seen in the 1980s, and their recovery remains vulnerable to pressures like habitat loss, pesticide use and climate change.

For the New Year's period, the western monarch count results revealed a 58% seasonal decrease in the overwintering western monarch population. Although the overall number of western monarchs counted for the New Year’s count remains relatively high compared to recent years — with more than 116,000 butterflies reported — the 58% seasonal decrease exceeds the typical range of 35–49% observed over the previous six winters.

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How to help. There are many factors out of our control, however, we can help the monarch butterfly by planting native milkweed like butterflyweed (Asclepius tuberosa). Milkweed is the only host plant that monarchs will lay eggs on and the only plant that the caterpillars can eat. We can also help by planting native nectar plants for their adult food source and also avoiding the use of pesticides in our gardens. Bring back the monarchs, they are beautiful in appearance, useful as pollinators, and their innate ability to navigate long distances across the continent is a natural wonder.
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All types of native bees are also in decline. Many of the plants that grow in our environment depend on bees for pollination. They pollinate flowers, fruits, and vegetables and their services provide food for the butterflies. Help preserve our environment . . . learn how to add plants to your garden to attract butterflies and help pollinators. Click here for your Butterfly/Bee Guide to plant preferences.

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