Here's How You Can Help Stop Monarch Butterflies From Going Extinct

Photo: Miguel Tovar/LatinContent/Getty Images.
The world is looking at the possibility of losing one of its most beautiful animals: the incomparable monarch butterfly.

A study published in the journal Scientific Reports found that the orange-and-black butterfly is at risk of a quasi-extinction, in which the population gets too low to rebound, over the next 20 years. Researchers gave the butterfly an 11 to 57% chance of hitting the threshold if nothing is done and said that the current population would need to increase by 500% to reduce the risk.

The butterfly population, which migrates seasonally from North America to warmer climes in Mexico, is measured when it hits Mexico — not by the number of butterflies, but rather by the total area of land that the wintering population covers. In 1996, the butterflies covered almost 14 hectares, or just over 34 acres. In 2014, they covered just 2.2 hectares (5.4 acres).

What’s changed in those 18 years? The loss of the population is mostly attributable to the rise in U.S. production of corn and soybeans. These crops are resistant to herbicides that farmers use to keep their fields free of milkweed, a weed that is the primary habitat and breeding ground for monarch butterflies. As the U.S. produces more corn and soy, the weed killers that farmers use to protect their crops kill the plants that the butterflies need to survive.

But hope isn’t lost for the beautiful bug yet. In May of 2015, the White House announced a commitment to help increase the monarch population back to 15 acres by 2020, partly by increasing habitat area. Also included in the commitment are honeybees, another declining species that could have huge implications on the environment.

If you don’t want to wait until 2020, there’s a really easy way that you can help: plant some milkweed. You can find instructions on how to do so via the National Wildlife Federation. It’s not often that we get the chance to help take the fate of an endangered species into our own hands.

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