Endangerment of the monarch butterfly worries insect activists

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The Insectarium encourages residents to plant milkweed in their gardens to help support the friendly orange and black insects

One of the world’s most beloved butterfly species is nearing extinction.

The monarch butterfly, a familiar favorite among North American insects, was declared endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature on July 21.

The group says the population of monarch butterflies on the continent has declined dramatically – by 22% to 72% in the past 10 years alone.

Although the reduction may be alarming, a pair of Sault Ste. Marie’s Insectarium Entomica says residents can take steps to help preserve and restore the monarch population.

“We encourage residents to start pollinator gardens, especially when it comes to planting things like milkweed,” says Chris Lee, program director at Insectarium Entomica. “At the same time, we absolutely want to urge the public not to collect monarch butterflies.”

Ontario residents must have a permit issued by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry if they wish to possess more than one individual specimen of a certain butterfly species, including the monarch.

These butterflies begin a migration pattern in Mexico around January and February, eventually arriving in Canada during the warmer months before moving south again later in the year, creating new generations of their species along the way.

Lee explains that deforestation, urbanization and increased use of pesticides and herbicides in some southern parts of the continent have had a noticeably severe impact on butterfly population and migration patterns.

“We definitely rely on pollinators — they help the environment a lot by fertilizing plants and helping them continue their life cycle,” says Lee. “Monarchs aren’t the number one pollinator, but they’re very well known and easily spotted, so it’s easy to see this decline.”

Entomica Insectarium founder John Dedes says the warning signs of the monarch’s decline weren’t so obvious before this season.

“I thought they were bouncing back a bit over the last two years,” Dedes says. “I saw monarchs everywhere. But there has been a dramatic change in my observations this year compared to last year.

Entomica is currently in the planning stages for a butterfly greenhouse – a greenhouse-like setting that encourages the growth of butterflies – while allowing visitors to stop and interact with the insects.

The nonprofit has yet to secure the funding to make this venture possible, but hopes the house will be up and running in several summers.

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