The monarch butterfly is endangered now, you monsters

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The reasons are many, but they’re almost all our fault.


Our prettiest pollinators are getting pushed closer to extinction. Monarch butterflies, the orange and black beauties who float from flower to flower through spring and summer, have been classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). That designation, the second most severe conservation status, is the result of years of a steep decline in the monarch butterfly population in the last 40 years.

The species that is landing on IUCN’s “red list” is specifically the migratory monarch butterfly, a subspecies of the beloved butterfly that is known for making the long journey across North America during its breeding season. That travel produces some spectacular visuals as thousands of these delicate winged insects take to the skies together. It is also great for the planet, as the butterflies spread pollen and help cultivate a healthy ecosystem.

Sadly, fewer and fewer of these creatures have been making the journey in recent years. According to IUCN’s research, which looked at hundreds of studies about the species, they determined monarch butterflies have seen their population dwindle by as much as 72% in the last decade. Much of that damage has been felt on the West Coast, where the monarch population has declined by 99.9% since the 1980s. There used to be as many as 10 million butterflies traveling up and down the coast, but now less than 2,000 remain.

The causes of this precipitous decline are many, but they’re almost all our fault. The changing climate has created conditions that are far from ideal for these butterflies, including more severe temperatures, extreme storms, and wildfires that limit their migration path. Milkweed, an essential source of nectar and a favorite spot of monarchs to lay their eggs, has been destroyed by pesticides and herbicides. On top of that, deforestation driven by agriculture and urban development has eliminated many of the habitats that the butterflies could find refuge in during their trip.

Things are slightly better on the East Coast, but it’s not much to celebrate. About 84% of the monarch population disappeared from 1996 to 2014 on that side of the country, and it’s possible that changing conditions will continue to push the butterfly closer and closer to total extinction.

While it’s hard to see any species facing extinction, it’s particularly devastating to imagine the loss of the monarch butterfly — the rare insect that seems to have a 100% approval rating. Its beautiful wings are eye-catchers, and seeing it softly fluttering between flowers has long been a sign of spring’s arrival. On top of that, it’s one of the most interesting creatures around, as it undertakes the longest migration of any insect on Earth. It’s heartbreaking to think that one of these annual trips will be the last if something doesn’t change soon.