Monarchs: North America’s Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly
Monarch butterflies at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama. (Photo: Keenan Adams/USFWS)

The monarch butterfly is an iconic North American species – and an amazing creature. But monarchs are in trouble. And you can help.



Monarch in Mexico
Monarchs in Mexico. (Photo: AnnMarie Krmpotich/USFWS)

For decades, many hundreds of millions of monarchs flooded the continental United States and southern Canada each spring and summer after wintering in Mexico. Their population has decreased by as much as 90 percent in recent years. Scientists believe that’s primarily because monarchs have lost much of their habitat – particularly their host plant, milkweed – to agriculture and development.



Holt Collier
A monarch on aster at Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge in New Hampshire. (Photo: Greg Thompson/USFWS)

In 2014, a Presidential Proclamation directed federal agencies to protect and restore the population of pollinators, including monarch butterflies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, hundreds of other organizations and many thousands of Americans have taken up the call to Save the Monarch Butterfly. Before looking at how you can help the monarchs, let’s look at why they are amazing.



Black Bear
Fall and spring migration. (Map: Sean Killen/USFWS)

For starters, the annual migration of the monarchs’ eastern population is amazing. That migration involves four or five generations of the butterfly, beginning in spring in Mexico, continuing through summer in the United States and Canada, and ending in fall back in Mexico. National wildlife refuges, which often have monarch-friendly habitat, appear as dots on the map above.



Monarch butterfly
(Photo: Rick Hansen/USFWS)

You can learn more about the generational life cycle during the monarch migration, report monarch sightings throughout the year, and participate in other citizen science projects at Journey North.



Monarch Metamorphosis
(USFWS photos: Courtney Celley, Tina Shaw and Joanna Gilkeson)

The biology and metamorphosis of the monarch are amazing, too. Over a period of 28 to 38 days, a monarch completes its life cycle from egg to larva (caterpillar) to pupa (chrysalis) to adult. Read more.



Mathews Brake
A monarch chrysalis. (Photo: Al Troutman)

Check out this time-lapse video of a monarch emerging from its chrysalis.



Monarch Caterpillar On Milkweed
A monarch caterpillar on milkweed at Kirwin National Wildlife Refuge in Kansas. (Photo: USFWS)

Female monarchs lay eggs only on milkweed. It’s the only plant the monarch caterpillars will eat.



Girl Scouts Planting Milkweed
Girl Scouts planting at San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo: Lisa Cox/USFWS)

You can help by collecting milkweed seeds. Or you can follow the lead of the California Girl Scouts above and plant milkweed and other native, flowering plants that provide important sources of nectar for adult monarchs to feed on. Or you can learn more about pollinators in general and how to plant a pollinator garden here.



Teach children about monarch butterflies
(Photo: USFWS volunteer Neal McLain)

You can teach your children about monarch butterflies. They might enjoy this “Monarch Butterfly Song” video by the Singing Zoologist.



Monarch in Michigan at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge
Monarchs in a tree at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Kansas. (Photo: Ryan Moehring/USFWS)

America is energized to save the monarch! The Monarch Joint Venture is coordinating efforts among conservationists, educators and researchers. The National Wildlife Federation is promoting the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge and working with towns and cities to do good things for monarchs. More than 100 mayors have pledged to help the monarch. Interstate 35, which runs north-south from Minnesota to the Texas-Mexico border, has been branded as the Monarch Highway.



Monarch in Michigan
(Photo: Karen Hofmann)

#ShareYourMonarchs online this fall or next spring and summer! Remember, if you help monarchs, you help other pollinators that are vital to the human food chain, too. As monarch butterfly conservationists say, “What’s good for the butterfly is good for the bee.”



Compiled by Bill_O'Brian@fws.gov, September 14, 2016