It’s important to keep track of which animal species are endangered, and take precautions to protect these animals and keep them from going extinct. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) keeps a “red list” of threatened species, tracking just how close each is to being gone for good.
Unfortunately, one beloved species has just been listed as “endangered” for the first time: the monarch butterfly.
Monarch butterfly endangered
One of the most beloved insect species of North America, the monarch butterfly is known for its beautiful looks — a signature white, black and orange pattern — and its year migration across the US, which is regarded as one of the world’s natural wonders.
“Few species evoke the awe and wonder that the migratory monarch butterfly commands,” said Dr Sean T. O’Brien, President and CEO of Nature Serve.
But on July 21, the IUCN officially designated the species as endangered, after a drastic population decrease caused by habitat destruction and climate change.
“Today’s Red List update highlights the fragility of nature’s wonders, such as the unique spectacle of monarch butterflies migrating across thousands of kilometres,” said Dr Bruno Oberle, IUCN Director General.
Reasons for decline
They report that the monarch butterfly’s native population has shrunk by between 22% and 72% over the past decade. Legal and illegal logging and deforestation to make space for agriculture and urban development has taken a major toll on the monarch’s winter shelters. Butterflies are also killed by pesticides and herbicides.
They also cite climate change as a “fast-growing threat,” as drought and temperature extremes wipe out much of the milkweed the butterflies eat. “Severe weather has killed millions of butterflies,” the IUCN wrote.
“It’s just a devastating decline,” Stuart Pimm, an ecologist at Duke University, told the Associated Press. “This is one of the most recognizable butterflies in the world.”
“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.”
According to the New York Times, US wildlife officials determined that the monarch butterfly was threatened with extinction and qualified for the Endangered Species Act in 2020, but the butterflies were ultimately not placed under protection, choosing to focus resources on higher-priority species.
While the monarch butterfly’s new endangered status is unfortunate news, experts hope that the designation serves as a call to action.
“It’s been so sad to watch their numbers decline so much, so anything that might help them makes me happy, and I think that this designation might help them,” Karen Oberhauser, conservation biologist at the University of Wisconsin, told the New York Times.
Thankfully, there are ways for everyone to help the monarch’s survival. You can plant milkweed native to your area, giving the butterflies and caterpillars a much-needed meal.
The average person might not be able to directly save the mountain gorilla or the Amur leopard, but the monarch butterfly is a familiar sight in their own backyard, so they might be inspired to join the cause.
“It’s hard for people to imagine that something that shows up in their backyard is threatened,” Anna Walker, who led the monarch butterfly assessment, told National Geographic.
In addition to the monarch butterfly’s new endangered status, the IUCN Red List also gave updates about two other species.
Bad news for sturgeons, good news for tigers
It was bad news for the sturgeon: the IUCN found that 100% of the world’s 26 remaining sturgeon species are now at risk, with 17 now considered critically endangered. The decline has been caused by overfishing and poaching.
But there was good news for the tiger, which saw a 40% increase since the last evaluation in 2015, indicating that the global tiger population is stable or increasing, though they remain on the “Endangered” list.
It’s heartbreaking that the iconic monarch butterfly has declined so much that they’re now endangered, but we hope this beautiful species makes a recovery.
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