When you hear extinct you might think dinosaurs, but can you imagine butterflies going extinct? Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) are an important part of our environment. Their populations, however, are in great danger. The monarch butterfly is a milkweed butterfly. It’s the most familiar North American butterfly and is considered an iconic pollinator species.
Monarchs migrate thousands of kilometers from their breeding grounds in Ontario to their winter home in Mexico. In the summer and early fall, they move from flower to flower feasting on nectar. In mid-fall, they travel in large numbers near the shores of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, where they cluster together on trees to form roosts (overnight resting areas) before crossing the lakes. These areas may contain a few hundred to several thousand monarchs. They typically form clusters in the same areas year after year.
Naturally, monarch populations will vary from winter storm deaths, poor breeding conditions, predators and other pressures. Now, however, mortality rates are consistently high. Conservationists are concerned that the monarch population could become too low to sustain itself. As a result, the monarch butterfly is identified as a species of Special Concern by both the provincial and federal governments. This means the species could be at risk of becoming threatened or endangered if we don’t take steps to protect it.
Here’s what you can do to help the monarch butterfly population:
- Add native trees, shrubs and wildflowers to your property. For example, planting milkweed can attract migrating monarch butterflies.
- Avoid pesticide use. Avoid spraying for mosquitoes or other insects when you have monarchs.
- Limit mowing. Reduce or eliminate mowing, especially in late summer. If you must mow, pay attention to your timing so milkweed is continually available for monarchs.
- Support beneficial farming practices.
- Report any monarch observations to CVC staff.
It’s hard to imagine a summer day without the chance to spot beautiful orange, black and white wings. Visit our Species at Risk page to learn more and to find out how you can help improve environments for these special populations.
Photo Credit: Cheryl Ann Victoria E