Monarch butterfly added to IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

A monarch butterfly in the Butterfly Pavilion at the LA County Museum of Natural History Wednesday, June 1, 2022.

David Crane | MediaNews Group | Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images

The iconic black and orange monarch butterfly is facing extinction due to habitat destruction and climate change, international conservationists said Thursday.

The monarch butterfly, known for its annual migration across North America, has been placed in the endangered category of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

Each fall, millions of butterflies undertake the longest known migration of any insect, flying thousands of miles from breeding grounds in the eastern United States and Canada to spend the winter months in Mexico and California.

The monarch population has declined between 22% and 72% over the past decade, scientists have said. The western population is most at risk of extinction, declining by 99.9% from around 10 million butterflies to just 1,914 butterflies between the 1980s and 2021.

The larger eastern population declined by 84% from 1996 to 2014, according to the IUCN.

More than 40,000 species are now threatened with extinction, according to the IUCN, as scientists warn that Earth is undergoing a sixth mass extinction event caused by human activity.

Factors contributing to the steep decline include logging and deforestation that have destroyed large swaths of the butterflies’ winter home in Mexico and California. Pesticides and herbicides used in agriculture have also killed butterflies and milkweed on which the larvae feed. High temperatures fueled by climate change also triggered earlier migrations before milkweed was available.

“Today’s Red List update highlights the fragility of nature’s wonders,” IUCN Director General Bruno Oberle said in a statement. “To preserve nature’s rich diversity, we need effective and equitably governed protected and conserved areas, as well as decisive action to combat climate change and restore ecosystems.”

Scientists wonder if enough monarch butterflies will survive to sustain the population and avoid extinction. Conservationists are urging people and organizations to help protect the species, from planting milkweed to reducing pesticide use.

“It is heartbreaking that monarch butterflies are now listed as endangered by the IUCN Red List, the preeminent international scientific body on extinction,” said Stephanie Kurose, senior endangered species policy specialist. at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service needs to stop sitting idly by and protecting the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act, instead of hiding behind bureaucratic excuses,” Kurose said.

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