Western Monarchs 99.4% Vanished

*A couple weeks ago, a majestic western monarch butterfly fluttered by me en route to feed upon the nectar of pretty purple lantana flowers. It whispered, “Don’t forget to tell the world of our plight, too!”

The iconic monarchs are mysterious pollinators, which intrigue children and adults alike.

Monarch Butterflies
Monarch butterflies cannot fly if their body temperature is below 86 degrees. They will bask in the sun or shiver their wings to warm up. Image credit: Texas A&M

There are two distinct populations. The western beauties congregate along mid-coastal California about a mile-and-a-half from the Pacific Ocean. They roost and hibernate in clusters on blue and red gum eucalypts, Monterrey pines, Monterrey cypresses, western sycamores, redwoods and coast live oaks.  Eastern monarchs gather and hibernate in Mexico’s Michoacan high elevation ancient forests, more specifically on giant oyamel firs.

Monarch Butterflies
A cluster of eastern monarchs on an oyamel fir, Mexico. Mike & Sue Smith

Monarch butterflies require three or four generations to migrate from Canada and the U.S. to mating wintering grounds in California and Mexico. In some instances, the total inter-generational journey spans an astounding 3,000 miles.

Man-made poisons, habitat destruction and increasing extreme weather events from the Man-driven climate crisis have lambasted the monarchs’ food, shelters and nesting areas. Accelerated poaching of ancient oyamels and the expansion of vast avocado plantations has caused the eastern population to plummet by more than 80 percent. Their cousins, the westerners, are now teetering on edge of extinction.

Can the western monarchs be saved? Yes. It’s an “all hands on deck” situation.”

Monarch Butterflies
The wings of western monarchs overwintering at four California sites offer clues to their areas of origin. Image credit: Kathy Keatley Garvey/UC Davis.

In fact, for every 160 monarchs there were in California in 1980, there’s only one remaining today. That’s a catastrophic 99.4 percent decline in a mere four decades. Hideous biological annihilation.

Can the western monarchs be saved? Yes. It’s an “all hands on deck” situation.

Developers and inappropriate tree trimming have decimated much of the coastal California hibernating and mating sites. Therefore, all remaining monarch overwintering coastal habitat in the Golden State must be protected. Xerces Society,The Center for Biological DiversityNatural Resources Defense Council and others are working ceaselessly to ensure that crucial existing habitat has sufficient legal and enforcement protection.

Western monarch butterflies sipping nectar from the flowers of showy milkweed. Image credit: Idaho Fish & Game

Restoring breeding and migratory habitat across the entire western monarch range is central to their recovery.

Californians are required to plant an array of native milkweed species that provide early (Feb-April) bloom and late (Sept-Oct) bloom forage. There are 15 species that are region specific across California. Do not plant tropical milkweed as it interrupts the monarchs’ natural migratory cycle, and promotes diseases that ultimately weaken the beleaguered remaining western population. Elsewhere, plant native milkweed to your respective state or province.

Monarch Butterflies
Monarchs flap their wings about five to 12 times a second, or, about 300 to 720 times a minute. Image credit: Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS

In the midst of an accelerating Sixth Mass Extinction occurring as fast as 10,000 times the previous five others, it’s a no-brainer to end poisoning the soil, the plants, the insects and the water.

That means refusing to use all herbicides especially the most widely used of all RoundUp, which has exterminated many of the native milkweeds across the entire North American continent.

Also, refuse all insecticides, more specifically neonicotinoids, sulfoxaflors and flupyradifurones. These poisons are lethal for monarchs, bees and soil fauna. Moreover, these horrid chemicals have destroyed ground feeding bird populations. This, in turn, has reverberated up the food chain to the raptors, or, birds of prey. 52 percent of 557 species of raptors have declined. 18 percent of these magnificent top of the food chain predators are threatened with extinction. The raptors as a whole are the most threatened of all 10,000 kinds of birds. Unacceptable.

One way to help protect the ancient oyamel firs is to refuse purchasing Mexican-grown avocados. Illegal avocado plantations are run by organized crime, narcos, which led the Wall Street Journal to name the region’s tainted operations “blood avocados,” the equivalent of the conflict diamonds that are sold from the war-torn parts of Africa.

There are more than 100 species of milkweed that sustain the North American monarchs. Image credit: USFWS

Become a citizen scientist and help track the monarchs across western North America. Once a year, consider volunteering and participating in the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count. It’s a splendid way to reconnect with Nature and rediscover joy, wonder and harmony in your local surroundings.

Monarch Butterflies
Monarchs become toxic to birds by feeding on milkweed plants. Image credit: The Mercury News

It’s up to each of us across the West to lend a helping hand and save these glorious western monarch butterflies from extinction.




Dr. Reese Halter

Dr Reese Halter is an award-winning broadcaster, distinguished conservation biologist and author.

Dr Reese Halter’s latest book is
Love! Nature

Tweet @RelentlessReese


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