Monarch butterfly eyed for possible U.S. endangered species protection

Jan 6, 2015

Image: REUTERS/Edgard Garrido/Files

By Laura Zuckerman

Monarch butterflies may warrant U.S. Endangered Species Act protection because of farm-related habitat loss blamed for sharp declines in cross-country migrations of the orange-and-black insects, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said on Monday.

Monarch populations are estimated to have fallen by as much as 90 percent during the past two decades because of destruction of milkweed plants they depend on to lay their eggs and nourish hatching larvae, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

The loss of the plant is tied to factors such as increased cultivation of crops genetically engineered to withstand herbicides that kill native vegetation, including milkweed, the conservation group says.

Monarchs, unique among butterflies for the regularity and breadth of their annual migration, are also threatened by widespread pesticide use and logging of mountain forests in central Mexico and coastal California where some of them winter, said biologist Karen Oberhauser at the University of Minnesota.

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4 comments on “Monarch butterfly eyed for possible U.S. endangered species protection

  • Well, good luck with that. That sounds like a really fragile ecosystem, and not exactly in line with agricultural policies. Pesticides win, would be my guess.

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  • Used to see them all the time – was fun to find a nice spot facing North and watch a small group, or individuals glide overhead southwardly. Now, I see just a few and hope they find the healthy crop of milkweed at a local defunct golf course.

    Then comes the worry they won’t find any standing trees in Mexico (they’re doing their part to help the Monarchs, in fact, one small town’s livelihood depends on the butterflies for tourism).

    David Attenborough’s wonderful series Life includes a segment on these winged treasures.

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  • Exactly what good will the government declaring them an endangered species do to increase the Monarch butterfly population? I mean, it’s not like too many people are hunting them, are they?

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  • attaaboy, That’s a really good question. Hopefully the plan would be to somehow restore the habitat. Not sure how that would work, but I think acknowledging that there is a problem is a good first step.

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