The Monarch butterfly is one of the most easily recognizable and well-known butterflies in North America. Their migrations are a spectacle that many people travel to witness year after year. However, the unknown reality is that the Monarchs are dying. Their population has decreased by 90% since the early 1990s. Even here in Florida, we’ve seen a drastic decrease, and have lost 80% of our Monarch population since 2005.
Monarch Butterflies are one of the few insects in the world that participate in mass migration. They travel huge distances to breed during summer and over-winter in a warmer climate. This migration is imperative for their survival.
Monarch Butterflies are picky eaters. Well, at least as caterpillars they are. Monarch Caterpillars will only feed off of one plant, Milkweed. Because this is the only plant that the caterpillars will eat, it is the only plant Monarchs will lay eggs on. These eggs hatch within three to five days and about a month later a Monarch will emerge.
These adults typically live a few weeks during which they mate, lay eggs, and continue their migration north. This cycle requires three to five generations to fully re-populate before returning to their overwintering grounds. The last generation of Monarch butterflies are tasked with a long journey south, where they will live roughly eight months, over-winter, and then begin the cycle again for a new generation.
What is Threatening Monarch Population?
Because the Monarch Butterfly needs to migrate and can only repopulate if Milkweed plants are available, human interference has drastically affected their survival.
As we continue to develop urban areas along with massive monocrop farms, the ecosystems that once supported these beautiful creatures have slowly dwindled.
Additionally, herbicides and pesticides used in commercial and residential settings can kill Monarchs or the plants they need to survive.
As human advancement has continued to affect climate change, the Monarch’s migration is changing as well. Because their migration is so important for maintaining their population, even the slightest change in timing could be the last straw for these butterflies.
While these can make our lives easier, they make the lives of butterflies harder. Do some research on pesticides and herbicides before using them in your garden. Make sure they’re not damaging to Monarchs and that they won’t kill any Milkweed you’ve planted. At the very least, avoid using these chemicals during the time of year that Monarchs are present.
Help Fight Climate Change
Lastly, we should all do our part in helping to fight climate change. As temperatures rise across the country, breaking records, starting fires, and putting people in the hospital we can no longer deny the fact that our presence on this planet is changing it. Although change is needed on a large scale it always starts small and grows as individuals emphasize the importance of responsible living to others.
Unfortunately, Monarch Butterflies are struggling to survive in the environment we’ve created. With a little help the from us the Monarchs may continue blessing us with their beauty for generations to come.
“A Long-Term Survey of Spring Monarch Butterflies in North-Central Florida.” Taylor & Francis, www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00222933.2018.1510057.
“Monarch Butterfly.” National Wildlife Federation, www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Invertebrates/Monarch-Butterfly.