What’s Causing the Decline of Monarch Butterflies?

The monarch butterfly is one of the most recognizable species of insect in the US. It is synonymous with the beauty of nature, gracing posters, book covers, photo galleries, and more. Yet future generations might never see one of these graceful creatures in person. 

Between 1994 and 2016, the population of monarch butterfly decreased by 80%. Some experts fear it could go extinct in as little as two decades. 

This isn’t just about losing a pretty insectAs we mentioned in our previous post, the monarch butterfly provides an important service as a pollinator. With the honeybee population steadily declining, pollinator diversity is more important than ever. That means we need pollinators like the monarch butterfly to survive and thrive. 

To save the monarch butterflies, however, we need to understand what’s destroying them in the first place. 

Loss of Winter Habitat 

Every year, around October, monarch butterflies from all over the US migrate to Mexico and California to live out the winter. During the winter months, you can find millions of monarchs gathered together in these warm, sunny climates. 

The trouble is, the butterflies are having a harder time finding places to gather together. Due to deforestation, swarms of monarch butterflies are returning to their winter territories, only to discover the habitat is gone. 

And many butterflies are struggling to make it there in the first place. 

Changing Climate 

Migrating species like butterflies rely on traditional weather patterns to inform them when they need to move from one place to the other. Overly warm fall weather may cause them to leave too late, only to get caught in the sudden arrival of winter. Early summers may result in them returning to northern states too soon. 

Across the continent, we’re seeing irregular temperatures, excessive rain, and out-of-season storms, which can wipe out entire swarms of butterflies. 

To make up for these losses, the returning butterflies need to be able to properly procreate upon returning home at the beginning of spring. This too has become a problem. 

A Lack of Milkweed 

Milkweed is critical to the life cycle of the monarch butterfly. Monarchs lay their eggs exclusively on milkweed. When the larvae hatch from their eggs, they eat the milkweed plant for nourishment. In addition to providing food, the plant provides them with a defensive mechanism. 

Milkweed contains a toxin that is harmless to monarch caterpillars but makes them poisonous to would-be predators. This toxin remains in their system through adulthood. 

However, milkweed has seen its presence be drastically reduced throughout the US. Many states have labeled it as a noxious weed, targeting it with herbicides. Urbanization, modern farm practices, and droughts have further reduced its presence, providing little territory for monarch butterflies to rebuild their numbers. 

What Can Be Done? 

With so many factors at play, many changes will be needed on an international scale to truly undo the damage being done to these vital pollinators. The simplest place to start is by establishing local pollinator habitat that includes milkweed. 

This can be done through programs such as CRP. By taking underperforming or highly erodible land out of active production and establishing pollinator habitat, farmers and landowners can receive compensation from the government. They’re even reimbursed for a percentage of expenses.  

Establishing pollinator habitat, however, is easier said than done. We can help with that. 

FDCE handles the entire process for you from start to finishincluding all of the necessary (and complicated) paperwork. Contact us today to learn how we can successfully turn your land into pollinator habitat. Together, we can help bring back the monarch butterfly and restore some balance to nature.