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Monarch Butterfly in Crisis, Population Numbers Drop Drastically in One Year

The Xerces Society cites alarming statistics for monarch butterflies.

The phenomenal decline of monarch butterflies in California is worrying wildlife conservationists. A comparison of their current numbers indicates the butterflies are down by 86 percent from last year’s figures. Unfortunately, the numbers of the iconic creatures have declined by about 97 percent since the early 1980s.

The Xerces Society, a non-profit environmental organization focused on preserving ecosystems and biological diversity by protecting invertebrate species, organizes an annual count of the monarch butterflies. The society is named for the now extinct California butterfly named Xerces blue.

In the western United States, monarch butterflies move to winter on California’s coastline from September to February. But the population in California this year is greatly reduced. Emma Pelton, a conservation biologist at the Xerces Society who helps lead the monarch count, told USA Today that the number of monarchs this year is the worst in decades.

“It’s been the worst year we’ve ever seen,” said Pelton. “We already know we’re dealing with a really small population, and now we have a really bad year and all of a sudden, we’re kind of in crisis mode where we have very, very few butterflies left.”

Figures at 97 California overwintering sites showed that monarchs in 2017 numbered 148,000, but they hardly number above 20,400 this year, representing about an 86 percent decline.

Conservationists are still counting the monarchs in other overwintering sites, but they are not too hopeful the numbers will be any more significant.

Causes for Decline of Monarch Butterflies

Experts do not know what is causing the monarch butterflies to die off exactly. But they believe it could be a combination of factors such as

  • Late rainy season storms in California
  • Prolonged drought lasting for years in California
  • Relentless onslaught of wildfires burning butterfly habitats
  • Pesticide use and toxic smoke
  • Logging and development have downgraded monarch wintering sites

With the wildfires, storms and pesticides experts do not think monarchs have a chance to proliferate.

“We’re seeing the population really collapse in a single year,” Pelton said. “Now we’re worried: Are they going to bounce back? We’re not sure.”

The conservationists urged Californians to help with the monitoring efforts to protect monarchs. They also asked residents to pressure local representatives to save the butterflies by adhering to the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayor’s Monarch Pledge.

Residents around the country can also help by following the Xerces Society’s conservation advice which includes planting Milkweed and other nectar sources for monarchs.



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