A monarch butterfly in the Butterfly Pavilion at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles County on Wednesday, June 1, 2022.
David Crane | Media News Group | Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images
International conservation activists said, Thursday, that the famous black and orange monarch butterfly is threatened with extinction due to the destruction of its natural habitat and climate change.
The monarch butterfly, known for its annual migration through North America, has been placed in the endangered category by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Red List of Threatened Species.
Each fall, millions of butterflies make the longest known migration of any insect, flying thousands of miles from breeding grounds in the eastern United States and Canada to spend the winter months in Mexico and California.
Scientists have said that the royal population has declined between 22% and 72% over the past decade. Western populations are most at risk of extinction, dropping by 99.9% from an estimated 10 million butterflies to just 1,914 butterflies between the 1980s and 2021.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said the largest eastern population fell by 84% from 1996 to 2014.
More than 40,000 species are now threatened with extinction, according to the IUCN, as scientists warn that Earth is undergoing a sixth mass extinction event driven by human activity.
Contributing factors to the sharp decline include logging and deforestation that have destroyed large swaths of winter butterfly habitat in Mexico and California. Insecticides and herbicides used in agriculture have also killed the butterflies and milkweed plants on which the caterpillars feed. Rising temperatures, fueled by climate change, also caused early migrations before milkweed was available.
“Today’s update of the Red List highlights the fragility of nature’s wonders,” IUCN Director-General Bruno Oberle said in a statement. “To preserve nature’s rich diversity, we need effective and equitably governed conservation and conservation areas, along with critical actions to tackle climate change and restore ecosystems.”
Scientists are concerned whether enough monarchs will survive in order to maintain the population and avoid extinction. Conservationists are urging people and organizations to help protect the species, from growing milkweed to reducing pesticide use.
“It is heartbreaking that monarch butterflies are now classified as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List, the preeminent international scientific body on extinction,” said Stephanie Koroz, Endangered Species Policy Specialist at the Center for Biodiversity.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service should stop sitting on its hands and protect the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act for now, instead of hiding behind bureaucratic excuses,” said Coroz.