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As Western Monarch Butterflies Edge Closer To Extinction, How Can The Public Help?

Published by Connor Wesson on May 4, 2022

Western monarch butterflies, once commonly found in the Western United States and Mexico, are approaching extinction at an alarming rate. Conservationists hope to educate the public on how to help monarchs the right way.


 

At the Dana Point Nursery in Orange County, California, Monarch Conservationist Michael Simonds analyzes milkweed plants for possible monarch eggs.


Unsuccessful in seeing any eggs, caterpillars, or butterflies, Simonds' trip to the nursery was a representation of how difficult it has become to spot monarchs in across California.

A flock of Western monarchs "overwintering" in Pacific Grove, California. Credit: Vern Fisher/Monterey County Herald, via Associated Press

Impacted by climate change, overuse of pesticides, and constant development, the population has experienced a 95% decline since data began being recorded in 1997.

A Species In Distress

The annual Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count facilitated by the Xerces Society is the primary way western monarch populations are reported along the Western United States. Counting individuals at various nesting sites, they succeed in recording accurate population records.


The latest findings from the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count. (Credit: Xerces Society)
 

In 2020, the western monarch population reached its lowest point since the Xerces Society began their research with only 1,914 individuals being counted along the West Coast. These grim figures came after multiple severe wildlife seasons and record high temperatures in California.


In a dramatic turn of events, the 2021 Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count reported a shocking 247,237 monarch butterflies observed across western overwintering sites. While it is an exciting win for conservationists, they do not take credit for the sudden population boom, rather attributing it to the resilience of the monarchs.


With a sudden boost in the monarch's population, the public is being encouraged to help bring the Western monarch back from the brink.


How Can You Help Monarchs? Plant Native Milkweed. Lots of it.
A row of milkweed at the Dana Point Nursery in Orange County, CA.

  • Milkweed is the go to plant when dealing with monarch butterflies. A monarch caterpillar's diet consists solely of milkweed, and once matured, female butterflies will only lay their eggs on the leaves of a milkweed plant.






"Because the population is so low, we try to keep out milkweed and we try to help them along the way" (Simonds).


When considering growing milkweed or raising butterflies, it is important to remember that this is a delicate species prone to diseases that could wipe out an entire roost. Keeping large numbers of caterpillars or chrysalises together will make those individuals more susceptible to these diseases.


It is also imperative to know which types of milkweed are native to your region and will be best appreciated by your local butterflies.


Milkweed is a plant found across the United States and Canada. However, certain subspecies of monarchs such as the Western monarch prefer plants from their particular region rather than milkweed variants from other places.


The future of monarch butterflies does not have to be bleak, with enough support from the public, this species can return to its legendary numbers.

 

If you or anyone you know hopes to support monarchs by growing milkweed, you can use this native milkweed finder from the Xerces Society to figure out which plants will best support your local butterflies.


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