CHESTERFIELD, Mo. – The Monarch is one of the most recognizable butterflies in the world, its orange and black wings an instant eye-catcher. Famous for their seasonal migration, millions of monarchs travel from the United States and Canada south to California and Mexico for the winter.
“There is actually a population East of the Rocky Mountains and a separate, distinct population West of the Rocky Mountains,” explains Chris Hartley, Science Education Coordinator at the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House in Faust Park. “And it’s really important when we talk about conserving them to realize that the Western Population is in much worse shape than the eastern population.”
In December, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service announced that the monarch butterfly needs to be added to the threatened and endangered species list. Over the past 20 years, scientists have noted declines in all populations, but especially the California population, which fell to fewer than 30,000 in 2019. Habitat loss is the biggest problem.
“There’s specific patches of trees there that are slowly being lost and other factors along the whole migratory pathway like loss of whole plants, loss of milkweed, loss of nectar plants and many other things that are just causing the population to slowly dwindle away,” says Hartley.
We want to help preserve both the western and eastern populations of Monarch butterflies and there are a lot of things that you can do in your own backyard.
“Planting milkweed It is one of the major ones. Milkweed is the host plant for Monarchs. What I mean is it’s the only plant of all the plants in the world that a Monarch mama will lay eggs on. You can have a garden full of wonderful plant choices but if there’s no milkweed, it’s basically of little use to Monarch butterflies,” explains Hartley.
In addition, you also need to add plants that will provide nectar for adult butterflies.
You can find those at the Butterfly House plant sale being held over two weekends in April. Adding a butterfly garden to you spring planting plans will do so much more than beautify your landscape
“All kinds of butterflies are pollinators. They have many other ecological roles including things you may not think of. As caterpillars, many butterflies are food for baby birds. That’s an important role they play, so lots of different ways they integrate into the ecosystem,” says Hartley
Getting the monarch butterfly on the endangered species list is a great way to bring attention to the problem but helping monarchs is up to all of us.
“Its survival depends on us planting milkweed and on, you know, planting nectar plants and not using pesticides in our yard and things like that. Really, it will never recover unless we take those individual actions, no matter what federal status is given.”