The iconic migratory monarch butterfly, distinguished by its easily recognizable black and orange color scheme, is now listed as endangered and could disappear without further action to halt climate change and restore its habitats.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a Switzerland-based conservation organization that monitors the status of wildlife, added migratory monarchs (Danaus plexippus plexippus) to its endangered species list this week. The IUCN Red List now includes over 41,000 species threatened with extinction.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service, which helps implement the Endangered Species Act, in the meantime listed the monarch as candidate for inclusion on his listing endangered and threatened wildlife as of December 2020.
“Few species evoke the awe and wonder that the migrating monarch butterfly commands,” Sean T. O’Brien, who heads the nonprofit conservation group Serving naturesaid in a statement. “While efforts to protect this species are encouraging, much more needs to be done to ensure its long-term survival.”
Monarchs are not only beautiful pollinators, but they are also unique: they are the only butterflies known to perform a two-way migration like birds do, according to the United States Forest Service. Monarchs from eastern North America head south to Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains, while those in the west head to the mild coastal regions of California. In the summer, the butterflies return to places across the United States and Canada to breed.
Populations of migratory monarchs, a subspecies of the monarch butterfly, have declined by 22-72% in the past decade, according to a new IUCN assessment, due to pesticides and herbicides, as well as deforestation for logging, urban development and agricultural expansion. Human-caused climate change, in the form of drought, wildfires and extreme temperatures, also threatens milkweedthe only plant monarch butterfly larvae feed. Severe weather events have also killed millions of monarchs, according to the IUCN.
The western monarch population faces the greatest risk of extinction: its population has fallen by an estimated 99.9% in the past 40 years, from ten million in the 1980s to 1,914 in 2021. Experts fear that there are not enough butterflies left to keep the population alive. .
But there is still hope. To help increase monarch numbers, scientists and conservationists recommend planting more milkweed and nectar flowers, maintaining forests, and limiting the use of pesticides and herbicides in the butterfly range, report CNNby Madeline Holcombe and Jalen Beckford.
“People recognize the monarch,” says Anna Walker, an entomologist at the New Mexico BioPark Society who led the assessment. Washington Post’by Dino Grandoni. “People love the monarch. So that gives us the opportunity to raise awareness and get people involved.
The IUCN has also updated the status of several other species. Yangtze sturgeon (Acipenser dabryanus) is now listed as extinct in the wild, and 17 other species of sturgeon are now recognized as critically endangered. Chinese paddlefish (Psephurus gladius) is now off.
But the IUCN announcement wasn’t all bad news: the number of endangered tigers is on the rise, with a 40% increase since 2015. Some of this increase can be explained by better conservation efforts. monitoring, but their population appears to be stable or increasing.