The Monarch Butterfly’s Endangered Status

The Monarch Butterfly’s Endangered Status

Introduction

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is currently studying the eligible nature of the Monarch Butterfly’s endangered status. The unrelenting growth of the human race is decimating the Monarch Butterfly population and drastically reducing its population. Sadly, the advancement of the human race has not been historically kind to other forms of life, and that escalating trend does not paint a bright picture for the Monarch. Probably, its survival will depend upon the support of individual homeowners and gardeners. The essential relationship between the Monarch and a plant called Milkweed creates its dependence upon the home gardener, and it also presents an interesting story.

Man’s Dark History and The Monarch Butterfly’s Endangered Status

The Great Auk was large, clumsy and flightless birds that lived from northern Europe to the Northern coast of North America.  They resembled and were closely related to Penguins.  Illustrating their long history, Neanderthal humans harvested and fed upon them 100,000 years ago.  As the world’s population increased, so did the bird’s destruction.  They were primarily targeted as a tasteful food item and their downy feathers that were used in pillows.  Sadly, by the mid-nineteenth century, the last bird was destroyed.

The iconic Passenger Pigeon inhabited Eastern North America for thousands of years. For those fortunate to witness, they graced the land with massive flocks renown for their large size.  Allegedly their numbers were so large that they shaded the sun for hours as they migrated.  Tragically they were slaughtered in huge numbers for food, much of which spoiled due to insufficient storage.  Early in the twentieth century, the very last Passenger Pigeon died, leaving the world with one less representation of a unique species.

Another near tragic story surrounds the American Bison. As white America advanced westward in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they met resistance from the indigenous plains Americans. Those native Americans depended upon and migrated with the Bison. One strategy of the new European population was to destroy the American Bison.  Hypothetically, when the native population had nothing to eat, they would be more easily managed.  By the turn of the twentieth century only slightly over 300 American Bison had survived the reckless conquest of the American Continent.

Unfortunately, those examples of reckless destruction have only escalated to epic proportions today.  Many scientists indicate that extinction has grown to 1,000 times the historical rate.  Most scientists indicate that dozens of living species go extinct on a daily basis.

The Monarch Butterfly’s Endangered Status

After sharing the previous battles for existence, the Monarch Butterfly’s endangered status becomes a realistic consideration. The primary reason for this is its dramatic reductions in numbers.  Perhaps part of the Monarch’s appeal is its beauty.  Some have described the creature as a beautiful black and orange piece of stained glass.  Likewise, the butterfly’s habit and ability to float on air in their characteristic flight detract none from their beauty.  Conceivably, National Geographic added to the mystique and charm of the Monarch’s struggle with their extensive documentary. The documentary chronicled their butterfly’s migration from North America to Central Mexico. The documentry described the beauty and mystique surrounding the butterly’s winter migration.

In addition to the Monarch’s beauty and appeal, there is a mystique about their life and journey that captivates any observer. Questions, not statements, best express the nature of that character. Like any animal migration, for example: How do they know when to leave and where to go? Even more mysterious is the fact that the movement from North America to Central Mexico will most likely last over more than one generation. It is like another generation will assume the obligation and responsibility for the species needs for survival. So how does the knowledge of that obligation and responsibility pass from one generation to the next?

Assessing the Monarch’s struggle for survival, the prospect of survival is not encouraging at this time.  Unlike the Great Auk and the Passenger Pigeon, their battle has not yet ended in extinction.  Unfortunately, and unlike the American Bison, they have also not made a partial recovery.  Most informed studies suggest that about 90% of the Monarch population has been lost.  Likewise, that struggle does not seem to be reversing either. 

The Monarch Caterpillar
Monarch Caterpillars appear on Milkweed.
Monarch caterpillar and larva
The Monarch Caterpillar and larva appear side by side.

The Milkweed

Reliable studies indicate that the most significant contributions to the Monarch’s struggle are related to the loss of habitat and farming methods.  Those human practices account for a yearly loss of about two million acres of wilderness.  Additionally, in the drive for better farm production nature’s diversity is being converted into a monoculture.  Furthermore, herbicides and pesticides mainly accomplish that conversion, both of which are disastrous to the Monarch.  Firstly, they are catastrophic because the pesticides are fatal to the lava, caterpillar, and butterfly.  Secondly, they are deadly because the desired monoculture excludes the milkweed. And as previously noted, the milkweed is the exclusive food supply for the Monarch caterpillar. 

So the modern farmer’s monoculture farming methods are disastrous to the milkweed, which is the Monarch’s exclusive food supply.  However, that loss is an opportunity for the individual gardener.  While the corporate farmer abhors diversity, the home gardener prefers it.  Likewise, by including milkweed among that desired diversity, the personal gardener provides a helping hand to the Monarch’s survival.  Not only would the presence of milkweed in the home garden prove beneficial to the Monarch, but it would also provide an exciting nature story to the gardener and especially the gardener’s children and grandchildren.

The number two reason for the massive extinction numbers that occur on a daily basis is due to the intrusion of invasive species. The blog post on the Cuban Tree Frog is a perfect example of this issue. However, the Monarch’s dilemma is due to the direct intrusion of mankind into the natural ecosystem in a direct and disruptiov manner, and this represents the nimber one cause for todays massive extinction rates.

The Photographs

It just happens that the model milkweed gardener selected for this article is Roger Chilson, and Mr. Chilson is also our go-to resource for birding activities.  He is the photographer who captured the three photographs that embellish this article, and all were taken in his back yard.  Any reader that enjoys Monarch Butterflies would most likely enjoy perusing his website at “skyblue43.wordpress.com.”  A more direct link to his milkweed and Monarch photographs is: https://skyblue43.wordpress.com/category/butterflies-flowers/ Roger used a Canon PowerShot in good daylight to capture the above photos.

Conclusion

A common estimate is that the Monarch Butterfly has lost about 90 of its original population. Moreover, the United States Fish and Wildlife service, despite extending the deadline, agreed to consider and reach a decision by 2020 on an endangered status for the species. Pesticides and the economic need for monoculture agriculture methods have destroyed much of the previously available milkweed. Unfortunately the Milkweed plant is a mainstay for the Monarch Catepillar. Additionally, man has a terrible record of consideration for living species other than itself. If the future of the Monarch is turned around, it will be a credit to the home gardener who is the only willing provider of the essential Milkweed Plant.

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