The United States is seeing record lows when it comes to the population of our favorite garden companions. Here's what you need to know.

By Jenny Krane
Updated: February 20, 2019

We all remember learning about monarch butterflies in grade schools—some of us even got to see the metamorphosis process in the classroom, then released these important pollinators into the wild. What if the next generation of students won’t get the same opportunity?

Monarch butterfly populations, especially on the West coast, are at an all-time low, and scientists are starting to worry about the possibility of extinction. According to an article out of Biological Conservation, the risk of extinction in 20 years is at 50-75 percent, while the risk of extinction in 50 years is up to 65-85 percent.

The population decrease is no new issue; monarch populations have been declining for the past 20 years. But, 2018 proved to be a monumental year of monarch decline in comparison to years prior. The Western states of the US, particularly California, recorded fewer than 50,000 monarchs in 2018. For context, there were a little under 200,000 recorded in 2017.

Related: Plants for a Beautiful Butterfly Garden

Graph courtesy of The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation

This decline could have something to do with the destructive wildfires earlier this year, which damaged many nectar sources. Pesticides can also kill butterflies. Many states have also seen a decline in the number of milkweed plants, as it is seen as a weed. Even native varieties of milkweed are being eradicated. Milkweed is the primary host plant for monarch butterflies, meaning that it's the plant where they lay their eggs and where the caterpillars eat.

How to Help the Monarchs

So what can we do to save the butterflies? The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has some suggestions.

Garden Organically

Pesticides kill monarch caterpillars and butterflies, so finding more natural ways to troubleshoot garden problems with help eliminate that risk. Plus, organic gardening has so many benefits!

Become a Monitor

You can join others in your area to help count and monitor the monarchs that pass through. The more monarchs that are tagged, the more accurate the numbers are. Organizations like Monarch Watch and Monarch Alert are always looking for what they call "citizen scientists" to help them tag, and each organization gives you instructions on what to do and how to order the supplies needed.

Give Them a Feast

Even a single pollinator container garden can make a measurable difference. Start with a native milkweed plant and surround it with other pollinator-friendly plants like pentas, bee balm, and coneflower. If you are in an area with native milkweed, plant it!

Foster Monarchs

There are many types of butterfly rearing kits that you can buy, and you can raise monarchs indoors or outdoors. Most kits come with the proper food and supplies to make it easy to care for the butterflies as they go through their metamorphosis.

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