Conserve Wildlife Blog

Fight for the Flight: Monarch Butterfly Status Under Review

January 22nd, 2015

By: Julianne Maksym, Intern 


A monarch butterfly emerges from a chrysalis in the wild. (Courtesy: US Fish & Wildlife Service)

As the summer leaves turn brown and children head back to school, flutters of black and orange wings flitter through the skies over the beaches in Cape May. As part of its yearly migration from Canada to Mexico, the monarch butterfly passes through New Jersey in search of a warmer climate for the blistery cold winter months. Multiple generations make the trek, leaving in the fall and returning in late spring.

 

During the summer months, the monarch can be found throughout the United States where milkweed, the species’ host plant, is plentiful. Milkweed provides nutrients to hungry caterpillars as well as space for mature females to lay their eggs. Although an adult monarch may lay up to 500 eggs in its lifetime, it has now been discovered fewer and fewer butterflies make the migration each year.

 

Losses of habitat and milkweed plants, the insect’s sole food source, are having tremendously devastating effects. According to a petition from butterfly advocates, the North American population has declined by more than 90 percent based on comparisons of the most recent population size estimates to the 20-year average. Numbers of monarch butterflies east of the Rockies dropped to the lowest record ever, signifying a decline of more than 90% since 1995. Monarch numbers west of the Rockies showed a similar decline of more than 50% since 1997. These figures suggest a significant predicament as the North American population represents the vast majority of all monarchs in the world. Without it, the entire species is vulnerable to extinction.

 

On December 29th, 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would be conducting a status review of the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service has reason to believe a listing may be necessary due to considerable evidence from a petition submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Food Safety, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and Dr. Lincoln Brower. The petition stated that habitat destruction and loss of milkweed due to pesticide use are two of the most contributing factors to the declining monarch population. Other factors include disease and predation, overutilization for commercial purposes, and lack of existing conservation procedures.

 

To begin the status review, the Service is requesting scientific and commercial data and other information through a 60-day public information period. The Service is specifically seeking information regarding the following:

  • Subspecies’ biology, range and population trends, habitat requirements, genetics and taxonomy
  • Historical and current range, including distribution patterns
  • Historical and current population levels and current and projected trends;
  • Life history or behavior of the monarch butterfly that has not yet been documented
  • Thermo-tolerance range and microclimate requirements of the monarch butterfly
  • Past and ongoing conservation measures for the subspecies, its habitat or both
  • Factors that are the basis for making a listing determination under section 4(a) of the ESA

 

Starting on December 31, information can be submitted via www.regulations.gov by entering docket number FWS-R3-ES-2014-0056 in the search box and clicking on “Comment Now!” The information collection period will be open until March 2, 2015.

 

Until a decision has been made, take a moment to appreciate the beauty that is the monarch butterfly. Consider planting a few milkweed plants in your garden or speaking out against the overuse of pesticides. As much as the monarch butterfly’s migration is a group effort, the conservation of these beautiful creatures is even more so.

 

Julianne Maksym is a graduate wildlife intern for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

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