The monarch butterfly is on the endangered species list and the importance of that goes beyond just preserving the insect.
To those who study and advocate for the protection of the monarch butterfly, the insect has become the “gateway bug” to connecting people back to nature. That’s how Glenn Marangelo, with the Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium, and Chip Taylor, founder of Monarch Watch, described the importance of the butterfly.
Rising ocean temperatures, warming spring seasons, and weather disasters-- like flooding and a loss of habitat--have all contributed to the decline in the monarch population in North America.
The butterfly makes one of the longest migration tracks of any insect-- from Canada to Mexico-- each year. The habitat loss in particular is a dramatic threat to the species and almost all terrestrial and aquatic species.
“The monarch serves as a way to advertise that,” Taylor said.
While interest has exploded globally in restoring habitats and planting milkweed and other native plants to help the butterflies, Taylor doesn’t think it’s enough to combat the nearly two million acres lost every year.
Monarch butterflies share habitats with small mammals and ground-nesting birds, which are also declining. According to a conservation report by Audubon, the grassland bird population has declined by more than 40% since the 60s.
Some species of birds hover on the brink of extinction.
“Decline in populations is not just about really rare, local species, it’s happening broadly to biodiversity,” said Jaret Daniels, a curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
Daniels encourages people to plant native plants and milkweed, that have not been treated with insecticides, to attract monarch butterflies and other insects.
“When females come in and lay eggs on the plants and if they are treated, then often times monarch larvae die on the plant,” Daniels explained.
The museum is helping promote a beer created by First Magnitude Brewing Company to raise money to help the monarch butterfly. The recipe and graphics are available for any brewery in the country to use.
A quarter of the sale proceeds will go to restore butterfly habitats across the US--habitats that are crucial to many other forms of life.