HONOLULU (KHON2) — The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List includes 147,517 species, of which more than 41,000 are threatened with extinction. On Thursday, July 21, the IUCN announced that the migratory monarch butterfly has entered their Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered.
Monarch butterflies are known for their spectacular annual journey of up to 4,000 kilometers across the Americas. Due to habitat destruction and climate change, their native population has shrunk between 22% and 72% over the past decade, according to IUCN. So how can we save them?
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The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) suggests four ways to save monarch butterflies:
- Help Save Grasslands — America’s native grasslands are critically important for monarchs, providing both milkweed for monarch caterpillars and nectar plants for adult butterflies. More than 90% of native grasslands have been converted to cropland and development, according to the NWF. It’s a big problem for monarchs with grasslands disappearing. Click here to help.
- Plant Milkweed — Milkweed leaves are the only food monarch caterpillars will eat. You can find purple and white crown flower plants at your local plant store or go online to see where you can find them in your city. The Facebook Marketplace is a great source to reach out to the community for milkweed. There are also groups like Monarch Butterfly Friends Hawaii to also use as a resource.
- Don’t Use Pesticides — Since monarch caterpillars eat milkweed, don’t spray your plants with insecticides. Even if a caterpillar looks fine eating the plant, there’s a chance it could die during later development. Commit to avoid spraying pesticides in your yard, and click here to find out how to garden organically.
- Create Monarch Habitat — It’s quite simple to turn any outdoor space into a complete habitat for monarch butterflies. It all starts with your plant and making an effort to make sure there are no spiders or other pests that will eat butterfly eggs or baby caterpillars. Click here for tips.
You can also learn about monarch butterflies in Hawaii by visiting the “Monarchs & More: An Interactive Butterfly Exhibit” at Pearlridge Center. There will be hundreds of locally raised monarch butterflies at the exhibit, which will also have supplies and resources to build your own monarch habitat.
According to the IUCN, logging and deforestation to make space for agriculture and urban development have already destroyed substantial areas of the butterflies’ winter shelter in Mexico and California. Climate change has also significantly impacted the growth of milkweed — extreme temperatures can trigger earlier migrations before milkweed is even available, while severe weather kills millions of butterflies.
The western population of monarch butterflies is at the greatest risk of extinction, the IUCN said, declining by an estimated 99.9%. Between the 1980s and 2021, the population went from 10 million to nearly 2,000. The greater eastern population also shrunk by 84% from 1996 to 2014.
“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.
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It’s uncertain whether there will be enough butterflies to maintain the population and prevent extinction, but there are steps we can take to make sure the monarchs make a full recovery. From planting milkweed to reducing pesticide use, we can all play a role.