IUCN Officially Lists Beloved Monarch Butterflies as Endangered

Monarch Butterflies Make a Comback in the West
A monarch butterfly in the butterfly pavilion at the LA County Natural History museum on June 1, 2022. David Crane / MediaNews Group / Los Angeles Daily News / Getty Images
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Migratory monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus plexippus) are now considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The species will now be listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species after habitat loss and climate change decimated the population.

Even with recent reports finding a slight uptick in overwintering monarch butterflies, the numerous threats this species faces has led to a major plummet in the population in the past several years.

“Today’s Red List update highlights the fragility of nature’s wonders, such as the unique spectacle of monarch butterflies migrating across thousands of kilometres,” Bruno Oberle, IUCN Director General, said in a statement. “To preserve the rich diversity of nature we need effective, fairly governed protected and conserved areas, alongside decisive action to tackle climate change and restore ecosystems. In turn, conserving biodiversity supports communities by providing essential services such as food, water and sustainable jobs.”

The newly updated Red List includes 147,517 species, with 41,459 of those species being under threat of extinction. The now-endangered monarch butterfly is one of these many threatened species facing extinction. 

The monarch butterfly migrates to California and Mexico in the winter to breeding grounds throughout the U.S. and Canada in the warmer months. But its population has declined by as much as 72% in just the past 10 years due to logging, both legal and not, to make room for agricultural fields and urban development. On farms, pesticide use has further harmed the butterflies and milkweed, the only food source for monarch caterpillars.

Climate change has also pushed the migratory monarchs toward extinction. Droughts limit milkweed growth and can lead to more frequent extreme wildfires. The warming temperatures cause butterflies to begin migrations too early, when the milkweed is not yet available. Extreme weather events have killed millions more of the butterflies.

Western migratory monarch butterflies face the greatest threat of extinction, with as much as 99.9% of the population lost since the 1980s. The eastern monarch population dropped 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, who led the monarch butterfly assessment. “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.”

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