Approaching Extinction: Western Monarch Butterflies

Once again, The Monarch Butterfly is reported to be in serious decline. The numbers are shocking: In the 1980s, there were 4 and a half million Western Monarchs in their winter homes along the California coast. But the 2018 winter count was alarming. They found only 28,000. And now, it is much worse. Only 1,914 were found during the 2020 count.

The Western Monarch spend their winters on the coast then go to Rockies for the summer. The Eastern Monarch goes even further, from Mexico to Canada and back.

With delicate membrane wings, it can fly hundreds, even thousands of miles across brutal deserts and high mountains. But it cannot survive without milkweed. They need flowers for nectar but Milkweed for sustenance. To people, milkweed is an obnoxious weed and has not been welcome anywhere. We just didn’t realize it was a vital food for the Monarch, and we’ve done too good of a job eradicating it.

As we began to understand the problem, several groups are working on solutions. A few milkweed gardens have been created on public land.

There’s more to do.

The Western Monarch needs more habitat. Everyone can help. Even a small patch of milkweed and some plants with colorful flowers will feed them when they pass through our farmlands on the way to the Rocky Mountains.

Also, The scientists at UC Santa Cruz, Tufts University, Washington State and the Xerxes Society have created the “Western Monarch Mystery Challenge” to help identify exactly where the western monarch travels in spring. From Feb. 14 to April 22, the challenge is to report a monarch if you see one.

If you see a monarch outside of their overwinter groves, take a picture of it. Note the date and location, then report it through the iNaturalist app, online at-Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper, or email to MonarchMystery@wsu.edu.

The majestic monarch doesn’t need to disappear from our magnificent landscape.

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