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Saving The Monarch from Extinction: The Great Migration - Garden Guide Online

Saving The Monarch from Extinction: The Great Migration

Many of us will remember seeing these beautiful creatures everywhere in our youth, fluttering around fields and along coastlines, and migrating in swathes above our homes.

But, as of July 2022, the Monarch butterfly has been listed as endangered and is now at risk of extinction. Climate change, pesticide use, and illegal logging are all primary causes.

Thankfully, all hope is not lost! We can still prevent the Monarch butterfly extinction. By learning about these species and making small changes to our lives, we can prevent further decline and potentially help restore populations to sustainable levels once more.

In this article, we’ll explain more about why the Monarch is important, what is causing their decline, and what we can do to save these butterflies.

Quick Facts: Monarch Butterfly

Common name: Monarch butterfly

Scientific name: Danaus plexippus

Food: Nectar and milky juices from milkweed plants

Average lifespan: Around 4-5 weeks, sometimes longer during migration

Natural habitat: Along warm coasts in Mexico and California in winter, and in open fields, meadows, and gardens across the US and Canada in summer

About the Monarch Butterfly

The Monarch butterfly is a fascinating species. They possess the title of having one of the world’s longest migrations among insects, spanning between 4-7,000km every year.

In Mexico, their migration holds an important cultural significance. Once a year, when the Monarchs return, Mexicans celebrate the Day of the Dead (el Día de los Muertos). They believe the butterflies represent their loved ones coming home to visit.

Keep reading to learn more about the appearance, food, habitat, and migration patterns of the endangered Monarch butterfly.


Everything about the Monarch butterfly is truly stunning. Adult butterflies have vibrant, tangerine-orange wings, interlaced with jet-black stripes that form a veiny pattern. Both wings possess a symmetrical black border dotted with white spots. Males also have a discernible black dot near the center of their hind wings.

As caterpillars, Monarchs have a distinctive black-white-and-yellow tiger-striped appearance. They have white spots on their black legs and sheer black antennas. At full growth, the Monarch caterpillar reaches 45mm (around 2 inches) in length.

Food & Habitat

Monarch butterflies prefer to live in open meadows full of wildflowers, along warm coastlines, or nestled in forests. They only breed on milkweed plants, which are mostly found in the wild around North America.

Monarchs exclusively lay their eggs on milkweed leaves because it’s their only food source. Adults drink the nectar and milky juices provided by the flowers, while the larvae eat milkweed leaves.


One of the most spectacular things about the Monarch butterfly is its ability to migrate 4,000-7,000km (approx. 2,500-4,500 miles) every year. Because most species of Monarch live only 4-5 weeks, it takes at least 4 generations to complete the migration.

There are two types of Monarch butterflies: the eastern and western population. Both natively reside around the US, Canada, and Mexico, although some have been known to migrate across the pond to the UK.

During winter, the eastern Monarchs travel to Mexico, while the western Monarch resides in California. Here, they prefer to flutter along warm coastlines and hide in sheltered forests.

As spring approaches, both species migrate north, feeding on milkweed as they travel. Eventually, they settle and spend their summer around the US and Canada in open meadows. It’s here they lay their eggs on the milkweed.

Are Monarch Butterflies Endangered?

Sadly, as of July 21 2022, the IUCN announced the Monarch butterfly endangered and placed it on the Red List of Threatened Species. The Monarch joins almost 150,000 other species on this devastatingly long list.

The reason for this is that both populations of Monarchs (eastern and western) have been significantly declining over the last 30 years. The eastern population has seen the most drastic decrease, from a thriving 384 million to a mere 60 million since 1996.

The western population is most at risk. From 1997-2020, the numbers dropped from 1.2 million to a horrifying 2,000. They bounced back in 2021, with almost 250,000 butterflies recorded. But, despite this recent growth, the numbers are still dangerously low.

The good news is that, even though the Monarch butterfly has moved onto the endangered list, they are classified as “least concern”. This means they are not yet at a major risk of extinction and there is still time to save them.

Why Are Monarchs Going Extinct?

Numerous factors combined are rapidly causing Monarch butterfly extinction across the US, Mexico, and Canada. Keep reading to learn the primary causes of Monarch butterfly extinction.

Loss of shelter

Illegal logging and legal deforestation continuously occur across North America. This is done for profit and/or to make more space for agriculture and urban development.

But, as the forests decrease, so does the wildlife that thrives in those areas. Mexico is particularly subject to deforestation, which is where the Monarch butterfly flies for food, shelter, and warmth in winter.

With the loss of its natural habitats (and these areas being replaced with concrete jungles or intensive agriculture), the Monarch butterfly is quickly losing places to live, feed, and take shelter.

Pesticides and herbicides

Intensive agriculture across North America is having a significant impact on the Monarch butterfly extinction. The primary use of pesticides and herbicides in agriculture is to keep pests and weeds out of crop fields.

One of these weeds eradicated by pesticides is milkweed. As the singular food source and breeding ground for Monarch butterflies, the overuse of pesticides is leading to a drastic decline in milkweed, leaving the Monarch with less food and fewer places to lay their larvae.

In addition to this, agriculture across the US is expanding every year. This means it’s taking over more and more of the Monarch butterfly’s natural habitat, leaving them with fewer areas to feed and breed.

Climate change

Like many species, climate change is making the Monarch butterfly endangered. It’s one of the fastest-growing threats for so many reasons.

Firstly, droughts are killing off milkweed and/or disrupting their growth. The lack of rainfall is also causing more frequent (and highly destructive) wildfires, which are eliminating any plants that survive the drought.

Secondly, extreme temperatures and/or severe fluctuations in climate are triggering earlier migrations among the Monarchs. This causes the butterfly to migrate when their only source of food has not yet grown.

It’s also led them to experience severe weather during migrations, including heavy rainfall and freezing temperatures. Both these factors have been killing millions of butterflies every year.

Milkweed decline

One of the biggest reasons for the looming Monarch butterfly extinction is the decline of milkweed. All the devastating activities listed above are killing milkweed, or causing less growth during important seasons.

Because milkweed is the singular food source and breeding ground for these butterflies, everything that contributes to milkweed decline is detrimental to the Monarch butterfly extinction status.

How to Save Monarch Butterflies From Extinction In Your Home & Garden

While the numbers are drastically declining, research suggests there’s still time to save Monarch butterflies from extinction.

Because many parts of the US haven’t agreed to Monarch butterfly protection (the reasoning being there are other priority species), it’s up to us to help change the fate of these beautiful creatures.

We may not be able to stop illegal logging ourselves, but there are other, simple things we can do in our homes to help this species survive.

Here’s how to save Monarch butterflies from extinction in your home.

1.  Plant local milkweed

Because Monarch butterflies rely on milkweed as their only food source and breeding ground, planting local milkweed in your backyard is one of the best ways to save them from extinction.

Even though there are 73 species of native milkweed across the US, Monarchs only utilize around 30 of them. To help the Monarchs in your area, you should only plant milkweed native to where you live.

As a general guide, the following species grow best in these regions:

  • Midwest and northeast US: Common milkweed, swamp milkweed, butterfly weed, whorled milkweed, and poke milkweed
  • Southeast US: Butterfly weed, swamp milkweed, green antelope horn, white milkweed, aquatic milkweed, and sandhill/pinewoods milkweed
  • Southcentral US: Green antelope horn milkweed, antelope horn milkweed, broadleaf milkweed, zizotes milkweed, swamp milkweed, and butterfly weed
  • West US: Showy milkweed and broadleaf milkweed
  • Southwest US: Arizona milkweed, rush milkweed, antelope horn/spider milkweed, butterfly weed, and Mexican whorled/narrowleaf milkweed
  • California US: Mexican whorled/narrowleaf milkweed, desert milkweed, California milkweed, heartleaf milkweed, woolypod milkweed, and woolly milkweed
  • Canada: Common milkweed, whorled milkweed, butterfly weed, purple milkweed, poke milkweed, green comet milkweed, showy milkweed, and swamp milkweed

2.  Don’t use pesticides

Pesticides containing glyphosate are the most detrimental to your local milkweed population. When used, they can travel for miles underground. To help save Monarch butterflies in your area, avoid the use of these pesticides in your own backyard and opt for more natural substances instead.

You can make your own homemade pesticides that don’t harm the environment. Generally, household items like garlic, dish soap, vegetable oil, baking soda, or hot peppers are the most natural types.

3.  Build a waystation

Creating a waystation in your backyard is a great way to encourage the Monarch butterfly to lay eggs and take nest in your garden, rather than just eat the milkweed and move on.

You can make a Monarch waystation by dedicating a sizeable area, with lots of sunlight and well-draining soil, to plant milkweed and nectar plants.  

4.  Avoid logged wood

Illegal logging is causing deforestation and a lack of shelter for Monarchs. Legal logging can also harm the butterflies, but it’s more controlled. If you need to purchase wood, only choose wood that’s FSC certified to ensure you aren’t accidentally supporting illegal logging sales.

5.  Grow your own

Opting to grow your own vegetables at home can help you live more sustainably. Growing your own means you won’t need to rely on intensive agriculture (that uses significant quantities of pesticides).

It also prevents crops from being shipped across countries, so you can reduce your carbon footprint and join the fight against climate change.

Get our Vegetable Gardening Guide for Beginners to learn more.

6.  Spread the word

Finally, another way to help save the Monarch butterfly extinction from worsening is to spread the word! Share this article or the advice given with your family, friends, colleagues, and anyone else who will enjoy it.

Change starts with all of us, and even small steps (like telling a friend) can help prevent the Monarch butterfly extinction.

Summary: Saving Monarch Butterflies & Protecting the Great Migration

It’s not too late to prevent the Monarch butterfly extinction. Even though climate change, deforestation, and destructive agriculture are the primary causes of this species declining in the wild, we can invite these butterflies to take shelter in our back gardens instead.

At Garden Guide Online, we believe there’s no better place to discover the beauty of nature than in your own backyard. Our outdoor living collection is perfect for seasoned gardeners and newcomers alike.

Explore our beginner gardening guides today or discover our outdoor gardening supplies, from seeds to bird feeders, in our online shop.

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