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The Monarch Butterfly Is Now on the Endangered Species List

The monarch butterfly is officially an endangered species. Here's what you need to know—and how you can help.

Written by
Calin Van Paris

The newest member of our planet's ever-growing group of endangered species? The monarch butterfly.

Known for its stunning wings—a stained-glass-like medley of orange, black, and white—and fascinating migratory patterns, the monarch butterfly was added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of threatened species last Thursday. According the IUCN, the native population has shrunk by between 22% and 72% over the past decade, with the western population having declined by an estimated (and staggering) 99.9%.

The monarch butterfly travels between 2,000-3,000 miles every year, from the northeast United States and southeast Canada all the way to central Mexico and parts of California—one of the planet's longest insect migrations, and the only two-way journey akin to the migratory patterns of birds.

Once they've reached their destination, the butterflies enjoy a warm-weather winter hibernation (also called overwintering) in the high branches of area trees, clustering in colonies of tens of thousands for warmth, creating a tapestry that's a stunning sight to behold.

Why Is the Monarch Butterfly Endangered?

Climate change is the most prevalent threat to the health and longevity of the monarch butterfly. The species' extensive journey requires many stops and support from the myriad habitats and ecosystems they find along the way.

Between deforestation in Mexico, frequent occurrences of extreme weather, and a decrease of the native plants (like the milkweed on which the caterpillars feed) that nourish the butterfly throughout its lifespan, the patterns enjoyed by the butterflies up until now are on the brink of collapse.

That said, a recent study by WWF Mexico shows hope for the eastern monarchs, the butterfly's presence in the country's forests this past winter was 35% greater than the previous year—and when it comes to environmental shifts, hope (even the slightest bit) is hope.

How You Can Help

1. Plant a Butterfly Garden

For a species that spends so much of its life in transit, nourishment is key. So, if you make your home along the monarch's migratory corridor, consider planting milkweed and other butterfly-beloved plants. Between a bounty of blooms and beautiful winged visitors, this option is a no-brainer for the gardeners among us. Here's an easy place to start your selection.

2. Avoid Insecticides

Avoid prioritizing the aesthetic status of your garden over the health of our planet's insects. Rather than harmful pesticides, opt for gentle, natural insecticides as an alternative—or, at the very least, curb your usage.

3. Get Involved or Donate

There are many passionate organizations working to save the monarch butterfly. Be sure to do your research, and invest in the project or group whose work strikes you as the most effective.