Monarch butterfly on swamp milkweed in Michigan. Photo by Jim Hudgins/USFWS.
The monarch butterfly is one of the most recognizable species in North America and it’s in trouble. Monarchs inspire people; and their habitat supports pheasant, quail, waterfowl and many other species. Their habitat also provides outdoor recreation opportunities, like hunting and wildlife observation. Habitat loss and fragmentation has occurred throughout the monarch’s range. Pesticide use can destroy the milkweed monarchs need to survive. A changing climate has intensified weather events which may impact monarch populations.
Numbers of monarchs have decreased significantly over the last 20 years, but together we can save the monarch. In the United States, there is a massive effort to provide habitat for monarch butterflies, imperiled bumble bees and other pollinators. There is no one group or agency responsible for providing habitat needed for monarch conservation. All organizations, agencies and individuals must work together to improve, restore and create grassland habitats to save monarchs.
No matter who you are or where you live, you can get involved today. Start by planting milkweed and nectar plants that are native to your area. Garden organically to minimize your impacts on monarchs, their food plants and other pollinators. Become a citizen scientist and monitor monarchs in your area. Educate others about pollinators, conservation and how they can help.
A monarch butterfly on sumac. Photo by Brett Billings/USFWS.
Summer is coming to a close, but we at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have something special to enjoy, observe and celebrate. Mid-August marks the start of fall migration for millions of monarch butterflies. Adult monarchs are partway through their lifecycle, but their reproduction is on hold. These monarchs are different from their parents, grandparents and even great grandparents. Previous generations completed their life cycle in four weeks. Each of these previous generations migrated north, resulting in four generations over the course of the summer. Butterflies in this last generation are members of the generation that migrates south, often called the monarch super generation.
Monarch butterfly on blazing star. Photo courtesy of Brett Whaley/Creative Commons.
The monarch is more than one butterfly. Think of it as an ambassador to a mosaic of prairie plants and animals that all need soil, sun and time to grow. In the face of massive habitat loss, we at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been making a home for monarchs and species of the wider prairie ecosystem for decades. Now you can too in your own backyard.
Overwintering monarchs. Photo by Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS.
Every year, monarchs from as far away as Idaho, Utah, Arizona and other Western states converge to spend the winter in tree groves along the Pacific coast and at a few inland sites. Following the butterflies’ arrival, citizen scientists trek to these coastal overwintering sites, from Mendocino County, California to northern Baja California, Mexico to count the butterflies.
Tagged monarch butterfly. Photo by Katie Steiger-Meister/USFWS.
In order to conserve the monarch migration in eastern North America, scientists need a thorough understanding of all aspects of this phenomenal journey. They know that roughly the entire fall migration season is 85 days - based on first roost reports and arrival dates at overwintering sites in Mexico from Journey North. Monarchs fly an average of 22 miles a day, traveling only during daylight. Larger monarchs migrate faster than smaller ones. The number of butterflies arriving in the northern breeding range in the summer can highly predict the eventual size of the migration generation.
The monarch butterfly is one of the most recognizable species in North America and it’s in trouble. Climate change has intensified weather events which may impact monarch populations. Pesticide use can destroy the milkweed monarchs need to survive. Habitat loss and fragmentation has occurred throughout the monarch’s range. You can help!
Monarch butterflies and pollinators are in trouble. You can help by planting a pollinator garden! You can plant a garden anywhere - your yard, school, church, business or even in a pot for your front steps.
A simple, native flower garden will attract beautiful butterflies to your yard and help pollinators stay healthy. In addition to nectar from flowers, monarch butterflies need milkweed to survive, so if you notice the leaves on your milkweed have been chomped, don’t worry, it’s a great sign!
Monarch caterpillar on common milkweed in Minnesota.
Photo by Courtney Celley/USFWS.
We are excited to be a part of leading the charge in protecting monarch butterflies across the American landscape. Saving the monarch butterfly will not happen without working together, creating collaborative opportunities. We are engaging with more than 50 partners throughout North America to enhance our conservation efforts to provide a future filled with monarchs.
Since 1995, the Wildlife Without Borders - Mexico Program has made a continuing commitment to support the conservation of monarch butterflies throughout the migration and overwintering sites.