Endangered migratory monarch butterflies are teetering on the brink of extinction—here’s why

Endangered migratory monarch butterflies are teetering on the brink of extinction—here’s why

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The migrating monarch butterfly is officially an endangered species.

The monarch butterfly subspecies – known for its seasonal migration across North America – was declared endangered on Thursday by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The IUCN entered the species on its Red List of Threatened Species, which now includes 147,517 species.

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The monarch butterfly is threatened by habitat destruction and climate change, says the IUCN.

A monarch butterfly rests on a flower Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, in Urbandale, Iowa.

A monarch butterfly rests on a flower Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, in Urbandale, Iowa.
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

“Today’s Red List update highlights the fragility of nature’s wonders, such as the unique spectacle of monarch butterflies migrating over thousands of kilometres,” IUCN director Bruno Oberle said in a statement.

The now-endangered migratory monarch butterfly travels 2,500 miles biannually between summer and winter ranges, according to National Geographic.

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But the species’ population has deteriorated between 22% and 72% in the last decade.

Deforestation for agricultural and urban development has destroyed important winter shelter in Mexico and California.

Monarch butterflies land on a rock at the Sierra Chincua Butterfly Reserve near Angangueo in the state of Michoacan, Mexico, Friday, May 16, 2016.  January 2015.

Monarch butterflies land on a rock at the Sierra Chincua Butterfly Reserve near Angangueo in the state of Michoacan, Mexico, Friday, May 16, 2016. January 2015.
(Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Pesticides and herbicides used in agriculture kill milkweed, on which monarch butterfly larvae feed.

Climate change-induced drought also limits the growth of milkweed, while extreme temperatures cause early butterfly migration.

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Severe weather in general has killed millions of butterflies, the IUCN reported.

The western population of migratory monarch butterflies is at greatest risk of extinction, with an estimated 99.9% decline since the 1980s, the IUCN also said.

Monarch butterflies fly near Oyamel trees at the Sierra Chincua Butterfly Reserve near Angangueo in the state of Michoacan, Mexico, Friday, May 16.  January 2015.

Monarch butterflies fly near Oyamel trees at the Sierra Chincua Butterfly Reserve near Angangueo in the state of Michoacan, Mexico, Friday, May 16. January 2015.
(Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

There has also been a major decline in the species’ eastern population, declining 84% between 1996 and 2014.

Monarch butterfly assessment manager Anna Walker shared in a statement that while it’s difficult to see monarch butterflies “teetering on the edge of collapse,” there is still room for redemption.

“So many people and organizations have come together to try to protect this butterfly and its habitats,” she said.

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“From planting native milkweed and reducing pesticide use to supporting the protection of wintering sites and contributing to social science, we all have a role to play in making sure this iconic insect makes a full recovery.”

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