Why Monarch Butterflies Are Dying in Droves—and How You Can Help

Several factors are contributing to the decline, but there are a few simple things you can do to help the beautiful creatures.

When I was little, I was always mesmerized every summer when the monarch butterflies would come out in droves. My parents had lots of milkweed in their garden to attract the beautiful creatures. But as I got older, I noticed there were fewer and fewer pollinators stopping by for a sweet snack. Now, my mom and dad are lucky to see any at all during the warmer months. Did the butterflies suddenly decide my parent's flowers aren't good enough? No, it's much more dire than that. 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.

Xerces Society, a non-profit environmental organization, reported that just 1,800 monarchs were found overwintering in California, with 95% of the data recorded. The establishment predicts the final count will be less than 2,000 monarchs total. Populations have dipped for years, but this is a sharp, incredibly concerning decline; there were about 30,000 butterflies found in the area in the past two years. The current number of monarchs in California is less than .01% of what it was in the 1980s.

The sharp downturn in population is due to "death by a thousand cuts," says Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society. A combination of destruction and neglect of overwintering sites, climate change, and overuse of insecticides are probably all contributing to the reduction of monarchs.

monarch butterfly
Jim Nelson/500px/Getty Images

How to Help the Monarchs

So what can we do to save the butterflies? The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has some suggestions. They're straightforward and easy ways to save the monarchs.

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.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles