photo: National Eagle Center
Monarch butterflies begin life as eggs which the adults lay on milkweed plants. When the eggs hatch as larvae they eat their eggshells and, subsequently, feed on the milkweed plants. Monarchs appear to lay their eggs exclusively on milkweed. Once common near agricultural fields and surrounding areas across the Midwest, milkweed is now in steep decline. Chemical applications on farm fields can kill all the ‘weeds’, and overspray impacts nearby areas. Mowing of roadside ditches has sharply limited the amount of available milkweed.
Critical habitats that monarchs rely on for food, reproduction, and overwintering are all declining. Pesticide use is also implicated in the decline of monarchs. Pesticides can also affect the adult monarch; the butterflies we love to see floating through the sky. When foraging for food, feeding on nectar and pollen, monarchs and other pollinators are exposed to neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are an insecticide that can exist in the nectar, pollen or leaves of a plant months after initial application. Monarchs and other pollinators can be exposed to lethal doses when feeding on these plants.
Status: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service initiated a Status Review of the Monarch Butterfly under the Endangered Species Act with a due date for information submission of March 3, 2015. They are working with partner organizations to engage Americans in protecting monarchs and restoring monarch habitat.