More milkweed, fewer pesticides will support endangered migratory monarch butterfly

·3 min read

Planting common milkweed is one important step you can take to support the now endangered monarch butterfly and have the iconic insect visit your yard, a Wright State University biology professor said.

There is a high likelihood of extinction for the butterfly species if something isn’t done, the professor, Don Cipollini, told News Center 7′s Brandon Lewis on Friday.

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The migratory monarch this week is the most recent member to be added to the endangered species list maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the world’s most comprehensive scientific authority on the status of species.

The authors reviewed about 100 studies, interviewed experts and applied criteria from the group’s Red List of Threatened Species to arrive at their decision. The IUCN’s list is not related to the U.S. Endangered Species Act and right now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not listed the monarch as endangered.

According to the IUCN, the native population of the monarch butterfly, known for its migrations from Mexico and California in the winter to summer breeding grounds throughout the United States and Canada, has shrunk by between 22% and 72% over the past decade.

Legal and illegal logging and deforestation to make space for agriculture and urban development has already destroyed substantial areas of the butterflies’ winter shelter in Mexico and California, while pesticides and herbicides used in intensive agriculture across the range kill butterflies and milkweed, the host plant that the larvae of the monarch butterfly feed on.

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Climate change has significantly affected the migratory monarch butterfly and is a fast-growing threat, according to the international union. Drought limits the growth of milkweed and increases the frequency of catastrophic wildfires, temperature extremes trigger earlier migrations before milkweed is available, while severe weather has killed millions of butterflies.

One of the keys to helping the monarch is to plant and grow milkweed.

“They are not hard to grow. You can grow these plants in your back yard,” Cipollini said. “If you do, chances are you will have a monarch visit your back yard. They can sense these things and find them.”

The more people do these things, he said, the more stepping stones can be created for the success of the monarchs.

People should care about the plight of the monarch, the professor said, because it is one of the iconic things -- just like the American Bald Eagle -- we learn about as kids.

“If we decide [the monarch butterfly] not important as a people, it’s sort of a sad story to decide that such an iconic insect is not important enough for us to change our ways,” Cipollini said.

Grace Dietsch, regional manager of conservation at Five Rivers MetroParks, home to a number of diverse habitats that contain specific plant and animal communities, echoed Cipollini’s sentiment.

“If we lose species like the monarch butterfly, what’s next?” she said. “What other species are going to start to decline?”