TYLER, Texas (KETK) — The migratory monarch butterfly was classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in July, but is not yet on the federal Endangered Species Act’s list. Is there any hope for Texas’ state insect to make a comeback?
Is the monarch butterfly endangered?
The IUCN is an independent organization and their endangered classification of the monarch butterfly is not the same as a federally endangered classification, according to Ross Winton, Texas Parks and Wildlife invertebrate biologist.
According to Winton, the monarch butterfly was found warranted for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act, but there are currently no resources to get them on the list. He said they are essentially on a “federal waiting list,” called a federal work plan.
The monarch butterfly is known for its annual journey of up to 2,485 miles across the Americas, according to the IUCN. The insect was placed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as endangered due to habitat destruction and climate change, the IUCN said.
Native populations of migratory monarch butterflies shrunk by 22% to 72% within the past decade, the IUCN said. Experts say the insects migrate from Mexico and California in the winter to summer breeding areas throughout the United States and Canada.
Why is the monarch butterfly at risk?
The winter shelter for the butterflies has been destroyed by deforestation to make space for agriculture and urban development, while pesticides and herbicides across the range kill butterflies and milkweed, which they feed on, according to the IUCN.
Experts said they are concerned since the western population is at great risk of extinction, having declined 99% from 10 million to 1,941 butterflies from the 1980s to 2021. Eastern populations have also declined by 84% from 1996 to 2014, and concerns remain about whether enough butterflies survive to prevent extinction, the IUCN said.
“It is difficult to watch monarch butterflies and their extraordinary migration teeter on the edge of collapse, but there are signs of hope,” said Anna Walker, member of the IUCN SSC Butterfly and Moth Specialist Group and species survival officer at the New Mexico BioPark Society, who led the monarch butterfly assessment. “So many people and organizations have come together to try and protect this butterfly and its habitats. From planting native milkweed and reducing pesticide use to supporting the protection of overwintering sites and contributing to community science, we all have a role to play in making sure this iconic insect makes a full recovery.”
Is there hope for the insect’s return?
The eastern population, which migrates to Texas in the warmer seasons, will be officially counted near the beginning of spring 2023, Winton said.
Unlike mammal populations, insect populations can recover faster and have a major shift in population due to the short time it takes for them to reproduce, according to Winton.
The western population in California counted between Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2022 was “very encouraging,” Winton said. There were several hundred thousand monarchs in comparison to a few years ago when the population was near 2,000, he said.
“In Texas, we saw pretty good results as far as how they were fairing, the upper midwest is where they struggled… lost habitat,” said Winton.
How can you help?
Monarch butterflies need milkweed plants throughout the spring and summer to help them reproduce, according to the Monarch Joint Venture. Nectar sources are also important for adult monarchs during fall migration when they store energy to survive, the Monarch Joint Venture said.
Planting milkweed in your garden or yard can help create a habitat for monarch butterflies in your area. This will help them live and reproduce to add to the monarch population. For more information to get started planting your own milkweed plants, click here.