Monarch Butterflies Endangered?


Many well-known news agencies published some version of a headline declaring “Monarch butterflies now listed as endangered” on July 21, 2022. This prompted a flurry of reactions from butterfly enthusiasts and monarch butterfly researchers alike.


The headline actually referred to the decision by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, an advocacy group based in Switzerland, to add the monarch to their proprietary Red List of Threatened Species, as Endangered. While significant, this is quite different from a determination by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) to protect a species under the Endangered Species Act in the United States, and has no real-world implications for monarchs in the U.S or even worldwide.


A petition was submitted in 2014 to include the monarch on the Endangered Species List, but in 2020 USFWS essentially put the species on a waiting list, determining that protection is “warranted but precluded”, with another review due in 2024. If monarchs were to be listed by the U. S. government, legal consequences would govern how humans interact with the species, including possible limitations on handling of the species, outlawing home raising, and eliminating the use of pesticides and herbicides such as neonicotinoids and glyphosate. A number of monarch experts believe that since the measures listed above could have potential negative implications on commercial agriculture, it will make it very difficult to list the monarch as endangered in the U.S, despite its declining numbers.


So what can you do to help the monarch?


  1. Plant milkweed! We have three species of native milkweed in our area, all of which monarchs will use to lay their eggs on. Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) are the best behaved in a backyard garden, but those with more space should consider Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).

  2. Educate your municipal leaders about the importance of planting native species.  Some municipalities have outdated weed ordinances that list important native species, such as milkweed, ironweed and goldenrod, as “weeds” that must be removed from residential lawns.  Check your municipality’s lawn & weed ordinances and advocate for encouraging the use of native plants rather than penalizing for their use!

  3. Plant a variety of flowering plants that bloom throughout the summer and fall. Adult monarchs need nectar to survive and do best when there are a variety of sources from which to choose. Consider things like Trumpetweed, Phlox, Mountain Mint, Joe-Pye Weed, Woodland Sunflower, Goldenrod, New England Aster, and New York Ironweed.

  4. Plant in multiples. Adult butterflies prefer to visit masses of flowers, and caterpillars can quickly eat 1 plant to the ground. Plant at least 3 of each variety planted and more if you can.

  5. Purchase your plants from local native nurseries. Avoid plants that have been pre-treated with neonicotinoids.

  6. Keep your yard herbicide and pesticide free.