Monarch butterfly population recovering but still lowest in years

In recent years, the number of acres of forests covered by wintering butterflies in Mexico have dramatically decreased. The forest area occupied by these dramatic tight concentrations of wintering monarchs serves as a reliable index of the total number of remaining monarchs as all monarchs return to the same forest each winter. In the latest survey from Mexico, the monarch butterfly population occupied a total of 2.8 acres of forest. This area represents an increase of 69% compared to the 2013 survey (1.7 acres). But, this is still the second smallest area since 1993.

monarch butterflies
Monarch butterflies hang from roost trees in the San Juan Colony butterfly reserve, Mexico © Paul Bettings / WWF-Canada

What is happening to the monarch population?
The monarch butterfly populations in North America are facing breeding habitat reduction due to the decrease of milkweed, their main food source. This is as a result of herbicide use and land-use changes as well as policies which encourage landowners to remove the plants, calling them ‘noxious weeds.’ They are also facing rapidly changing and extreme climate conditions in Canada, the United States and Mexico. If they make it to the end of their journey in Mexico, they are being affected by forest degradation caused by illegal logging.
The combination of these threats has led to a dramatic decrease in number of butterflies that winter in Mexico, in the last ten years.
EN_Infographic_Acres_ Monarchs 2015

What is WWF doing?
WWF is working both here in Canada and in the US – where monarch’s breed and spend their summers – as well as in Mexico – where monarch’s overwinter – to address the challenges and help this beautiful species rebound.
Here in Canada, teachers and students can get engaged in protecting monarchs and wildlife as part of our Schools for a Living Planet education program.
In Mexico, WWF is working with the local communities, government and private sector to preserve butterfly habitat – mainly oyamel fir and pine trees – by promoting good forest management and reducing illegal logging. In addition we are strengthening partnerships with local organizations to develop economic incentives that will encourage local communities to conserve the core zones of the Monarch Reserve.
Find out more about our work on monarchs and what you can be doing to help!
Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) feeding on nectar of Goldenrod flowers, East coast, USA. © / Ingo Arndt / WWF
Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) feeding on nectar of Goldenrod flowers, East coast, USA. © / Ingo Arndt / WWF

What else needs to be done?
The increase in acres this year demonstrates the ability of this species to rebound. WWF calls on leaders of Canada, Mexico, and the United States to work towards the commitment they made in February 2014 to protect monarch butterfly migration.
To ensure the long-term recovery of the species, Canada must address rapid climate change by developing national energy policies which will transition us to 100% renewable energy. Monarch recovery will also depend on Canada addressing inappropriate approaches in the breeding range of the species – including avoiding the classification of milkweed as a nuisance species.