In 1980 there were 10 million monarch butterflies in the western population. As of 2021, that number was closer to 1,914. While some still wonder, "Are monarch butterflies poisonous," the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) made waves updating its 'Red List' to include the monarch butterfly.
Also Critically Endangered are "more than one in five of the world's reptiles," including the Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) crocodile, as shown in the video below. [i] [vi]
The IUCN identifies species "at high risk of global extinction." There are nine categories the IUCN uses, which are:
- Not Evaluated
- Data Deficient
- Least Concern
- Near Threatened
- Critically Endangered
- Extinct in the Wild
Recently, monarch butterflies, known for their long migration path across the continent, were classified as endangered. According to the IUCN, the "migratory monarch butterfly'[s] Red List update highlights the fragility of nature's wonders." It is estimated that the native monarch butterfly population that generally migrates from Mexico and California in the winter "has shrunk by between 22% and 72% over the past decade." [i]
What is Happening to the Monarch Butterfly Population?
There are many reasons why the monarch butterfly is becoming critically endangered. Researchers such as Karen Oberhauser, Ph.D., and butterfly expert, blame herbicides used on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It is also suggested that dams and poaching also play a role in why the monarch butterfly has become endangered. [ii]
Across Reddit, even, users expressed their sadness at the monarch butterfly's now endangered status. In r/Connecticut, one user asked others when they'd last seen a Monarch Butterfly in CT, with the replies varying.
PlayLikeAHeroine mentions seeing several a day in their yard,
while Captain_SpaceRaptor mentions that although they've lived in CT for a year, they just saw their first monarch butterfly a few days ago.
Additionally, researchers state that the most conducive weather conditions for monarch butterflies are becoming few and far between, making it more difficult for them to survive migration. "Habitat destruction and climate change" are also stated by some as reasons for the monarch butterfly becoming endangered.
Others claim that despite these shortcomings, individuals can still help by creating 'butterfly gardens,' a monarch migration station, and planting Arizona milkweed in those gardens. [iii]
Interestingly enough, as habitat destruction has become a concern now that the monarch butterfly has been classified as endangered, bioscience has possibly already solved a potential burgeoning problem. In a recent article High-Tech Ways to Monitor and Protect Threatened Wildlife, researchers investigate six innovative methods high technology "is being used in ecological research and conservation." [iv]
These include Deep Neural Networks with 'camera traps' throughout natural habitats that are unobtrusive. This type of discreet camera allows nature to be viewed without destruction of the habitat. [iv]
Further, satellite imagery is optimally used to "detect illegal fishing and monitor deforestation." These steps to monitor the environment indicate at least the acknowledgment that changes need to be implemented to protect the ecosystem. [iv]
California Continues to Resuscitate Monarch Butterfly Population Despite IUCN Status Update
Although many are just tuning into the monarch butterfly rescue efforts, California has been toiling away effortlessly to multiply its monarch butterfly population. According to information provided in preparation for the 2023 International Western Monarch Summit, less than 2,000 monarch butterflies existed along the Central Coast of California in November 2020. [v]
Shockingly, California has seen a 10000% increase in its overwintering monarch butterfly population. The estimate is 250,000 monarch butterflies. Although still low, the Western Monarch Advocates (WMA) advise "most critical is for as much monarch butterfly habitat be planted as possible and overwintering sites restored and developed." As other sites have recommended, the WMA recommend native milkweed as also recommended by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). [v]
What are Californians suggested to do if they want to help? The overwhelming conjecture is "the reduction of pesticides and herbicides across all ecosystems." Gardeners who use pesticides kill monarch caterpillars. Conservationists are asking that all Californian's "Please participate in responsible pesticide use in our environment."
Researchers also ask that individuals not "mass rear" the eggs or caterpillars but instead allow them to flourish naturally especially the black and white monarch butterfly. [v]
For those Californians who want an up close and personal look at a white monarch butterfly, the "Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove season is from November to February." So grab a butterfly map and swing by to view a beautiful October butterfly.
December butterfly virtual tours are also available, where individuals can view a hovering butterfly king. More information on monarch conservation can be found at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation's Monarch Butterfly Conservation Page.
Further information on attending the January 20-22, 2023 International Western Monarch Summit can be found here.
[i] IUCN, Migratory monarch butterfly now Endangered - IUCN Red List, (Jul. 7, 2022)
[iii] 12 News, Monarch butterflies declared an endangered species. Here's how you can help (Jul. 22, 2022)
[iv] OpenMind, High-Tech Ways to Monitor and Protect Threatened Wildlife, (Feb. 2, 2022)
[v] Western Monarch Advocates, Monarch News in California, (2022)
[vi] IUCN, World's reptiles comprehensively assessed - IUCN Red List, (Apr. 27, 2022)