The Washington Post

‘Devastatin­g decline’: Monarchs on list of threatened species

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The monarch butterfly fluttered a step closer to extinction last week as scientists put the orange-and-black insect on the endangered list because of its dwindling numbers.

“It’s just a devastatin­g decline,” said Stuart Pimm, an ecologist at Duke University who was not involved in the new listing. “This is one of the most recognizab­le butterflie­s in the world.”

The Internatio­nal Union for Conservati­on of Nature on Thursday added the migrating monarch butterfly for the first time to its “red list” of threatened species and categorize­d it as “endangered” — two steps from extinct.

The group estimates that the population of monarch butterflie­s in North America has declined between 22 percent and 72 percent over 10 years, depending on the measuremen­t method.

“What we’re worried about is the rate of decline,” said Nick Haddad, a conservati­on biologist at Michigan State University. “It’s very easy to imagine how very quickly this butterfly could become even more imperiled.”

Haddad, who was not directly involved in the listing, estimates that the population of monarch butterflie­s he studies in the Eastern United States has declined between 85 percent and 95 percent since the 1990s.

In North America, millions of monarch butterflie­s undertake the longest migration of any insect species known to science.

After wintering in the mountains of central Mexico, the butterflie­s migrate north, breeding multiple generation­s along the way for thousands of miles. The offspring that reach southern Canada then begin the trip back to Mexico at the end of summer.

“It’s a true spectacle and incites such awe,” said Anna Walker, a conservati­on biologist at New Mexico Biopark Society who was involved in determinin­g the new listing.

A smaller group spends winters in coastal California, then disperses in spring and summer across several states west of the Rocky Mountains. This population has seen an even more steep decline than the Eastern monarchs, although there was a small bounce back last winter.

Emma Pelton of the nonprofit Xerces Society, which monitors the Western butterflie­s, said the butterflie­s are threatened by loss of habitat, climate change and increased use of weed-killing and insect-killing chemicals in agricultur­e.

“There are things people can do to help,” she said, including planting milkweed, a plant that monarch larvae, or caterpilla­rs, depend upon.

Nonmigrato­ry monarch butterflie­s in Central America and South America were not designated as endangered.

The United States has not listed the migratory monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act, but several environmen­tal groups say it should be listed.

 ?? MELINA MARA/THE WASHINGTON Post ?? The Internatio­nal Union for Conservati­on of Nature put the migrating monarch butterfly on its “red list” and categorize­d it as “endangered,” two steps from extinct. Monarchs in North America have declined an estimated 22 percent to 72 percent over 10 years, the group says. To help monarchs, people can plant milkweed, top right.
MELINA MARA/THE WASHINGTON Post The Internatio­nal Union for Conservati­on of Nature put the migrating monarch butterfly on its “red list” and categorize­d it as “endangered,” two steps from extinct. Monarchs in North America have declined an estimated 22 percent to 72 percent over 10 years, the group says. To help monarchs, people can plant milkweed, top right.
 ?? ENRIQUE CASTRO/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES ??
ENRIQUE CASTRO/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
 ?? CAROLYN KASTER/ASSOCIATED Press ??
CAROLYN KASTER/ASSOCIATED Press

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