Many of us silently celebrate the return of the Monarch butterfly each summer, a butterfly familiar to us since childhood. Monarch populations have not been doing well over the last decade, with populations being closely watched by scientists and the public alike.
This year, on August 22nd, hundreds of people in communities will recognize “National Flight of the Monarch Day,” a nationwide event to recognize the iconic Monarch butterfly and draw attention to their amazing life cycles, fantastic migration, and the serious threats they face. The Monarch has been listed as a species of special concern both provincially and federally in Canada. Despite annual fluctuations, it is estimated that Monarch populations have declined by over 80% since the 1990s.
Climate change is frequently cited as one of the leading causes of Monarch population declines, and indeed it is a significant factor. Extreme weather such as severe storms, wind, drought, and temperatures that are too hot or cold can affect the timing of the Monarch’s migration and milkweed emergence. This in turn can affect the Monarch production.
Climate models for future decades show that Monarch overwintering grounds will see cooler weather and heavier precipitation, which could affect Monarch survival. With current trends in our greenhouse gas emissions and an increasing global temperature, habitat for Monarch’s overwintering sites in Mexico is moving higher in altitude, and by 2090, no overwintering habitat for Monarchs will be left.
Habitat loss in their overwintering grounds in Mexico is an ongoing problem. Monarchs rely on the Oyamel Fir Forests, of which there are only about 30 sites globally. Despite the creation of the Monarch Reserve by the Mexican government, illegal logging continues for commercial logging, charcoal production, and creation of agricultural land – often related to avocado production.
Closer to home, natural habitat for Monarchs such as old farmland and meadows are being developed, transformed for conventional agriculture, or are reverting back into forests. Farming can actually increase breeding and nectaring habitat, but only when it provides abundant areas of milkweed and wildflowers, and pesticides are not used. Monarchs will continue to face natural predation, disease, and parasites, as well as other human-caused threats such as pesticide and herbicide use, and roadside mowing and spraying.
Some area municipalities are taking a pledge to protect Monarch habitat by creating a “Monarch Watch Waystation” of areas that are at least 100 square feet. Georgian Bay Biosphere has worked with partners to plant Monarch habitat gardens throughout the region, plus several Butterfly Gardens and shoreline landscaping projects to support biodiversity.
Carling Township Councillor Susan Murphy fully supports the efforts, stating “Carling Township worked with the Biosphere to create a Pollinator Garden in 2019. Doing what we can to help Monarch butterflies and other pollinator species is extremely important. If everyone can just do one thing, it will go a long way.”
There are simple ways we can all help the Monarch butterfly survive:
- Do not use pesticides and insecticides: these chemicals do not target just one species.
- Plant native species – for a local list see georgianbaybiosphere.com/conservation-guides
- Let it grow! If you frequently mow large swaths of grass, try reducing the space you cut by a quarter or even half. You’ll be surprised at the wildflowers that pop up!
- Never purchase Monarch butterflies. There is overwhelming consensus that captive-bred Monarchs from commercial butterfly farms are not a healthy way to help the population.
- Avoid bringing Monarch chrysalis indoors to pupate; be sure to follow Safe Rearing Instructions from conservation organizations, and use an enclosed outdoor space.
- Limit your consumption of avocados and avocado oil, or buy FairTrade. Avocado demand is increasing illegal logging in Monarch overwintering habitat.
- Share your knowledge with others, so be a Monarch champion! They need our help.
Celebrate on August 22nd and be a part of the National Flight of the Monarch Day! People of all ages and communities of all sizes will join in recognizing the iconic Monarch butterfly through this nationwide event presented by Monarch Nation.
Locally, Delaina Arnold, education programs manager for the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve, says: “We are challenging everyone to add their Monarch butterfly sightings to our iNaturalist project. By participating in iNaturalist, you become a citizen scientist and your observations (such as photos you share) contribute to biodiversity science. More people can gather more information about the Monarch butterfly to help guide research questions, habitat protection, and other conservation initiatives.”
How many different Monarch life stages can you find right now? Egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly? Arnold says that each person who submits an observation on iNaturalist by 5:00pm on August 23rd will be entered into a draw to win a butterfly book collection prize pack. If you’re not already on iNaturalist, it takes less than one minute to get it set up on your phone or other device. Learn more about Monarch butterflies and iNaturalist.