Monarch butterflies plummet 90 percent, need protection

Aug 26, 2014
Monarch butterflies in Angangueo, Mexico on December 10, 2008

Monarch butterflies are dying off fast, with 90 percent gone in the last 20 years, and they urgently need endangered species protection, a coalition of environmental and health groups said Tuesday.

The cause of their decline is the rapid loss of milkweed, the plant on which they feed and breed, largely due to due to herbicide spraying on genetically engineered corn and soybeans on Midwestern US farmland, they said in a petition to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Parasites, climate change and loss of natural habitat areas are also leading factors in the plummeting numbers of the black and orange butterflies.

"Monarchs are in a deadly free fall and the threats they face are now so large in scale that Endangered Species Act protection is needed sooner rather than later, while there is still time to reverse the severe decline in the heart of their range," said Lincoln Brower, monarch researcher and conservationist.

Monarch butterflies are found throughout the United States, as well as some parts of Canada and Mexico.

The petition said that in the past two decades, they have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat—an area about the size of Texas—and that includes nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds.

"Listing will make it illegal to intentionally kill or modify their habitat without a permit," said a statement from the Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety.

"Listing will also lead to designation and protection of 'critical habitat' to help recover abundant monarch populations."

The exact number of is unknown, and their populations fluctuate from year to year, the groups said.

"But anecdotal evidence suggests that monarchs were quite abundant in the 19th century. An 1850s observer of the monarch migration in the Mississippi Valley reported so many monarchs that clouds of them darkened the sky," their statement said.

"An early account in California described tree branches breaking under the weight of so many gathered monarchs."

Studies over the past two decades suggest a "steep and statistically significant decline of nearly 90 percent," they said.

The next step is for the US Fish and Wildlife Service to issue a "90-day finding" on the petition to see if it contains enough information to show federal protection is warranted.

If so, the FWS would then undertake a one-year status review to gather additional information on whether the monarch should be added to the list of threatened species.

Explore further: Mexico, US, Canada to work on Monarch butterflies

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Mexico, US, Canada to work on Monarch butterflies

Feb 20, 2014

Mexico, the United States and Canada have agreed to form a working group on the conservation of Monarch butterflies, whose numbers fell to record lows this year at their wintering grounds in central Mexico.

Recommended for you

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

thermodynamics
5 / 5 (3) Aug 26, 2014
It is about time. When I was a kid I lived in University City (a suburb of St Louis). There was a creek that flowed by my house and there were patches of milkweed along the creek. The monarchs would use the patches of milkweed to rest during their migration and they covered the area. When I left the area to go to college they paved over the milkweed area and I have never seen monarchs there again. I have seen photos of the area in Mexico where they go during their migration and I understand that those areas are being logged. I hope the monarchs get their protection because they were a sight to behold in my youth.
paul_cherubini_3
1 / 5 (2) Aug 28, 2014
Upper Midwestern farmers can't be fooled by the claims of these city based activist groups.
They know that monarch butterflies are still abundant in the farm road ditches that border their GMO crops. Check at the 2:00 minute mark of this video shot in southern Minnesota next to a GMO corn field: https://www.youtu...dmuSPslI Then in the late afternoon
the butterflies leave the road ditches and swarm in clumps of trees near the GMO fields like this: https://www.youtu...3S2sm13g and this:
https://www.youtu...nU7PB9to