Animals & the Environment: The Disappearance of the Monarch Butterfly

by Kacey Barton

One of my fondest childhood memories was the Monarch Butterfly migration through my grandparents’ ranch near San Angelo, Texas. During this migration, the world would be covered with orange and black, from the ground to the sky. By the end of their stay though, the ground would be littered with dead Monarchs, a reminder of their short but important lives; they passed on the torch to the next generation who would winter in Mexico.

Every autumn we would welcome them, their numbers dwindling until one year they didn’t pass through. I remember not thinking much of it at the time. I figured it had something to do with a move in migration paths; the weather, or even more predators, which killed the majority of them on their way. Hummingbirds, bees, and other butterflies were still coming and going, so there was no real indication of the true reason behind their disappearance.

While changes in weather would have had an effect on the Monarchs, the truth was that more than just our small ranch in Texas felt their absence; their population had shrunk dramatically across the country. The National Wildlife Federation stated that the Monarch butterfly population has actually declined almost 90% in the past two decades. This alarming decline is due to a couple of major factors: they are losing habitat in both the United States and Mexico, meaning they are losing their nectar plant food source, and pesticides used for some genetically modified crops are unintentionally killing both Monarchs and the Milkweed plant, which is vital for their survival. Milkweed is the only food source for Monarch caterpillars and is also the only plant on which Monarchs lay their eggs. Without Milkweed, there is no Monarch butterfly.

While most of the world’s attention when it comes to endangered animals and conservation is focused mainly on mammals, birds and reptiles, it’s harder to see and sympathize with the struggle of smaller invertebrates. But the truth is, without butterflies, bees and other pollinators; we won’t have food to put on the table. Luckily, almost anyone can do something to help out these pollinators – including the Monarch butterfly! Planting Milkweed and nectar plants, which are attractive to all types of pollinators, will help out immensely and create a way station for the few Monarchs we have left. In addition to creating a Monarch-friendly garden, be mindful of the pesticides you use in and around your yard. Try to pick the least toxic one, or even try out natural remedies to pest control.

Original art by Kacey Barton

Original art by Kacey Barton