Monarch Butterflies are just about gone

One of the most beautiful pollinators bites the dust-

One of the fun things I remember from childhood is capturing the black, yellow and white monarch butterfly caterpillars. They were not hard to find. I would put them in a Mason jar and feed them milkweed which was commonplace. It was where I got the caterpillar in the first place. Soon the caterpillar would spin a chrysalis. Then after several weeks the grand butterfly emerged to be released.

That was a long time ago, I haven’t seen a Monarch for many years, nor many other large butterflies either.

The demise of the Monarch is not just a minor aesthetic issue because the cause of their great decline is also pushing most bee species to low levels and many other insects as well.

One way to help conserve invertebrates and their habitat is to join the The Xerces Society.

Jim Robbins has a feature in the New York Times today on the sorry state of the Monarch and many other insects. The Year the Monarch Didn’t Appear. By Jim Robbins.







  1. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    WHAT!?!?!?!? I can’t believe it.

    One of the fun things I remember from childhood is capturing the black, yellow and white monarch butterfly caterpillars.

    Me too. They are beautiful. So sad. I’m convinced it’s due to chemicals and pesticide use, GMOs (growing in wildlife refuges too!) and monoculture crops, and shrinking habitat. 🙁

  2. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    This year, I didn’t see as many as last year. I drive by large, empty fields and I worry that they will disappear to development.

  3. Wolfy Avatar

    Wow, I share in the disbelief that such an iconic species can just “blink-out” without a huge public outcry. And it’s not just the monarch butterfly; there are several keystone insect and plant species which are the brink of extinction. One can feel powerless against such dire news. I feel like I’m just witnessing and documenting the end. And one day, I’ll be sitting down with my granddaughters and trying to explain what a monarch butterfly was or how bees used to make our little apple orchard hum in the spring. It’s truly tragic.

    1. birdpond Avatar

      I concur – Although I never used to believe in such things, it does seems as if we’re in the end times. Things I feared as a small child, the nameless sense of impending, devastating loss; things of which, in kindergarten, I should have had no knowledge –

      But I was right. Somehow, tragically, I was right – It’s like a nightmare, but when you wake up, it’s not a dream.

      Damn humans. Damn us to Hell for the crimes we’re committing against the Earth, other species, life, God, Creation.

  4. Nancy Avatar

    Wonderful site, be sure and check out the video:

    What a difference a few acres can make in helping out the enviornment 🙂

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      Wonderful! I don’t think I’ve ever seen such beautiful and abundant apples and fruit.

  5. SaveBears Avatar


    No disrespect meant, but I would like to see a bit more evidence that the Monarch’s are actually disappearing, I spent a month in central American last year and photographed trees with hundreds of thousands of Monarch’s on them.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan


      In addition to Nancy’s link below, do a web search using words like “monarch population decline” and you will find find hundreds of mostly independent (non-duplicative) articles on the decline of the Monarch in the last two years. I have been reading about it for much longer than that, and I haven’t seen a Monarch myself for at least 20 years.

      1. SaveBears Avatar

        Thanks Ralph, I guess I will do some research.

  6. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    At the wildlife sanctuary that I usually visit (and support) there were very many monarchs last year, and a lot of other types of butterflies too (and all kinds of birds). Sometimes guided by a naturalist and sometimes not. This year I only saw a few butterflies. They do take an annual survey of them also. Whether it is a natural anomaly or due to something else, I don’t know.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      Make that ‘only saw a few monarchs’ and other butterflies. Usually you see some of them right up to October I think, when the last wave migrates. 2012 seemed to be a decent year.

  7. CodyCoyote Avatar

    As soon after National Geographic disclosed the proximate location of the Monarch winter sanctuaries in the highlands of Michoacan state in southern Mexico, I went to see them for myself. Twice. 1987 and 1998. First year, it was magical and not a lot of tourists.
    In fact I’d say none…everyone visiting there was a ecologically conscious Traveller from the US or Europe and concerned with the Monarch’s situation. Eleven years later when I went back, it was a tourist trap. It was Christmas week and the place was overrun with MEXICAN middle class tourists who showed little or no respect. I had no problem seeing that the amount of unchecked logging and deforestation had gone up exponentially. The area is conifer with oaks, cedars, pines, a huge Ponderosa like pine and the amazing towering Olmeil fir trees that the Monarchs come home to.

    There are problems on both ends of the Monarch life cycle. The Mexicans are not doing much to hold back the loggers and development around the sanctuaries. The Americans are devastating the Monarchs by eradicating their preferred or even only food source , the common Milkweed plant all along their migration routes. Then there is the rampant use of pesticides. Mexico applies pesticides like we use lawn water. The US uses too much agricultural chemical, too. [ The same scenario is what’s threatening the populations of Army Cutworm miller moths that Grizzlies rely on in the alpine feedgrounds of te Absarokas in August— too much persticide use in the Great Plains and Corn Belt states. ]

    I feel very fortunate that I was able to visit the Monarch sanctuaries of Michoacan early on before they went ” public ” and became a destination.

    What have we learned? When have we ever learned ??

    Please do everything you can in your own backyards and along fencelines and ditches to plant and nurture more Milkweed. You will be rewarded with flying flowers called Monarchs.

    1. Louise Kane Avatar

      “Then there is the rampant use of pesticides. Mexico applies pesticides like we use lawn water. The US uses too much agricultural chemical, too. [ The same scenario is what’s threatening the populations of Army Cutworm miller moths that Grizzlies rely on in the alpine feedgrounds of te Absarokas in August— too much persticide use in the Great Plains and Corn Belt states. ]”
      and don’t forget that most of the pesticides we ban here in the US may be shipped out to Mexico and other countries. So even if they are banned here the US still exports. As we are learning the hard way, states and countries are not isolated islands and countries and continents are not either. Global warming, marine pollution, and toxic chemical use is fowling the earth. Its all happening in our collective backyard….

    2. Leslie Avatar

      I have yet to see a monarch on my milkweed. So far only swallowtails.

      Cody, my understanding is that it is the same monarch that over winters in places like Santa Cruz as in Michoacan. Just less of them in Ca.

  8. CodyCoyote Avatar

    My other concern is the Western Monarch. That is the specie that migrates to southern California for the winter, to live on the Eucalyptus groves above the Poinsettias in Ventura County and other places. I spent part of a winter there in 1985 and was amazed at all the Monarchs in and around Ventura. This was before I heard about the Mexican migration sanctuaries.

    So—What is the correlation between the dramatic drop in Eastern Monarchs and their counterparts the Western Monarchs ?

    Roughly , those Monarchs living west of the Continental Divide would likely migrate to/from California, not Mexico. I’m guessing the butterflies seen in the summer in Idaho would be of the California persuasion , and our Wyoming monarchs are Mexicano. The Monarchs that do make it back to Michoacan state can come from as far away as Eastern Canada clear to Newfoundland and the area just south of Hudson Bay. It takes 4 generations of butterflies ( 30-35 days per cycle…egg to emergence ) along the way to complete one migration. The adult butterflies flit about for maybe 2 weeks, when not pseudo-hibernating at night.

    There is also some suggestion recently that the growing use of GMO seed crops is also devastating butterflies. GMO crops are resistant to insecticides and pesticides , which means corporate mechanized agriculture can use more chemicals than before. Problem is, we have no GMO butterflies…

    1. rork Avatar

      Some articles make the GMO thing more clear.
      The problem is not that the plants are GM per se.
      It’s that they are glyphosate resistant and so farmers use glyphosate. This results in (wait for it …..) less weeds. Milkweeds have thus declined, along with nastier aliens like giant ragweed (much less common near me now).
      We’ll likely have non-GMO glyphosate-resistant crops soon, which would make the point more obvious.
      How common were milkweeds 300 years ago – my group of plant warriors often wonder about that. I haven’t seen the pollen studies that might tell us.
      I very much agree with Cody in most every place on this topic, particularly that you want to plant some milkweed – it could be butterfly milkweed (the spectacular, tough-as-nails orange one) in addition to some common milkweed.

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        Yes, I should have made that clearer. Not all GMOs are bad, but certainly the ones containing pesticides and herbicides and other toxic chemicals are cause for concern.

  9. Nancy Avatar

    “Problem is, we have no GMO butterflies”

    Could just be a matter of time CC:

  10. Nancy Avatar

    “However there is a serious catch-22 here: under certain conditions Milkweed can be toxic to livestock. Thus it comes as no surprise that many Montana farmers and ranchers are not enthusiasts of this “weedy” plant, and we sympathize with this concern. We encourage anybody interested in furthering the cause of Monarchs in Montana to become knowledgeable about this issue, with many resources now available on the Internet”

    Posted this site in a comment above. Does the same hold true in other parts of the country? Re:livestock?

    And seldom do I get out on the roads around here in the summer months without running across county trucks, with a reserve of chemicals mounted on the back, someone driving, someone spraying ANYTHING that might resemble a noxious weed.

    Then off road, “weed free days” are organized all over, for private and public lands spraying. Is it any wonder insects are falling thru the cracks?

    A good site, gathering it all together:

    But look at the diagrams and realize, perhaps the decline in Monarchs (and perhaps many other insects vital to the ecosystem) might have a lot to do with our sorry excuse for a species, just trying to keep up with the “Joneses’

    Soft, green, lush lawns, trimmed weekly and void of anything natural that were not there years, decades, centuries past?

    1. sleepy Avatar

      When I was a kid growing up in the South, we all learned early on that you walked very carefully through clover if you were barefoot because of the honeybees all over it.

      I don’t think I’ve actually seen a honeybee in years now.

  11. Leslie Avatar

    SB, the best book on this subject is The Forgotten Pollinators by Buchmann written in1997. This has been occurring for over a decade. It’s just that lay people are becoming aware of our loss of not only non native honey bees but indigenous species. I wrote a paper on our imperiled pollinators back in the 90’s.

    Read the times article and think about the moths bears are dependent on. These moths come up from the plains, a heavily gmo’d and pesticide use area. I would bet the Interagency did not put that in their latest food/science report when they recommended delisting.

    1. SaveBears Avatar


      Thank you, this is really a subject that I don’t pay attention to, we don’t seem to have a reduction in the amount of Butterflies we are seeing in the summer months in my area, so as I said, I will have to do some reading and research.

  12. Carter Niemeyer Avatar
    Carter Niemeyer

    I want to thank Ralph for pointing out the monarch issue. My wife and I dedicate our entire premises to growing annual and perennial plants just for the insects, birds and animals in our neighborhood. Emphasis is on the insects and I grow a lot of milkweeds and save hundreds of seeds each year. We plant them and spread them around (all I will say about that). We have about 2-3 monarchs stop by each summer but no reproduction that we verify. Milkweeds are one of the most fragrant flowers you could ever grow and provide nourishment to dozens of species of insects of all shapes and sizes and are preferred seasonally by honey bees and several other bee species of all sizes. Our visits to the Midwest confirm what Ralph has provided here. The last native prairie in my old stomping grounds are railroad right-of-ways and the farmers are farming right up to the rails. The intense farming is unbelievable because the real estate it eats up with “clean farming” is cumulative. Then you have the urban sprawl coming out to meet the farm ground and everybody manicuring their lawns and groves. Herbicides and insecticides prevail next to tons and tons of fertilizer. Very discouraging for me because insects are near and dear to my heart – especially the monarch butterflies that I studied and nurtured as a kid. They are my favorite critter on the landscape and I hope that human trends turn back and leave a little for Mother Nature.

    1. Carole Beverly Avatar
      Carole Beverly

      Your efforts are admirable, Carter, but it’s going to take government action to stop the killing. “A little for Mother Nature” is not going to do it. We can’t continue to take 90% or 99%. We first have to “Do No Harm” in everything we do. We need to take out corn fields and restore native prairie. We need to return to 100% organic agriculture. We need to eat less meat. All of this would also begin to remedy the dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico. We need to stop logging. We could do all this and live well, but life-killing growth at any cost has to go.

  13. Dan Bloom Avatar

    Barbara Kingsolver wrote a prescient cli fi novel about this titled FLIGHT BEHAVIOR. Ralph, did you read it yet? DO. did anyone else read it yet? Powerful. it is call to action on monarchs but fiction novel.


    ”The year the MONARCH BUTTERFLIES came late” to MEXICO and in record-low numbers:
    NYT oped by Jim Robbins

    “Kingsolver is a gifted magician of words.”

    In fictional Feathertown, Tennessee, Dellarobia Turnbow–on the run from her stifling life–charges up the mountain above her husband’s family farm and stumbles onto a “valley of fire” filled with millions of monarch butterflies. This vision is deemed miraculous by the town’s parishioners, then the international media. But when Ovid, a scientist who studies monarch behavior, sets up a lab on the Turnbow farm, he learns that the butterflies’ presence signals systemic disorder–and Dellarobia’s in-laws’ logging plans won’t help. Readers who bristle at politics made personal may be turned off by the strength of Kingsolver’s convictions, but she never reduces her characters to mouthpieces, giving equal weight to climate science and human need, to forces both biological and biblical. Her concept of family encompasses all living beings, however ephemeral, and Flight Behavior gracefully, urgently contributes to the dialogue of survival on this swiftly tilting planet. –Mari Malcolm –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

  14. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    I have seen a few black Swallowtails, and the pretty little American coppers in my yard. But there are noticeably less than last year, when we had lots of many varieties – there have been dragonflies though. I no longer use any lawn chemicals and planting more things for wildlife, and I think this year I have had many more birds, probably because there are many more bugs to eat.

  15. Dan Bloom Avatar
    Dan Bloom

    This all reminds me of Barbara Kingsolver’s powerful eco novel titled ”Flight Behavior”. Why no one has mentioned it here, not even Jim?

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Dan Bloom,

      I just purchased the book for my Kindle. So I hope you are right.

      1. Dan Bloom Avatar
        Dan Bloom

        Read slowly, savor her prose. she is genius. deserves Pulitzer and Noble one day, really. The novel starts off slowly, so they way i read it was to read all over the place, from the back, the middle, the front again, because some of the chatpers are slowwwww and yet others are pitch perfect about climate change and how the media igores the issues of protect the earth. SIGH. a very important book.

        1. Ida Lupine Avatar
          Ida Lupine

          It sounds great – I’d like to read it also.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      Next month, the group will publish a booklet showing utility companies how to establish monarch habitats under their power line rights-of-way. The organization’s executive director, Laurie Davies Adams, promoted aid to monarchs before the Wildlife Habitat Council, a consortium of major corporations involved in environmental stewardship.

      This is good too. I’ve begun encouraging milkweed in my garden, and I have Queen Anne’s Lace, which butterflies love.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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