After 10 long days in a chrysalis, monarch butterflies break free, ready to spread their wings and take their first triumphant flight. But the world they fly into is increasingly toxic and unwelcoming.
Lately, fewer and fewer monarch caterpillars are making it to their first flight. I want you to meet the monarchs we're trying to save:
Monarchs are the only butterflies known to make a two-way migration. When days start to get colder and shorter, the ever-perceptive monarchs know it's time to pack up and head south.
Western monarchs, unlike their eastern siblings, are the sprinters of the family. Flying faster for shorter distances, these monarchs leave their inland homes to spend their winters in the moderate Mexican and Californian climates.
Along the way, these butterflies flutter from flower to flower, collecting nectar and pollinating our plants. And they even run into some familiar faces: eastern monarchs.
When winter approaches, eastern monarch butterflies hit the road, too. But these butterflies travel a little differently than their sprinter siblings.
Eastern monarchs are marathoners. Flying slower, for longer distances, these 3-inch butterflies make the 3,000-mile migration from as far as Maine all the way to Mexico — and back again.
And when they meet up with some western monarchs on their way to their winter homes, they put their differences aside and form "roosts." These roosts, or clusters of monarchs, stick together throughout the winter. Together, the butterflies stay close to each other to retain warmth, resting on hillsides and treetops.
Once winter ends, the fun is over. The monarch siblings head back to their separate summer homes and breeding grounds where they can try to bring a new generation of monarchs into the world.
Despite their differences, these butterflies have a lot in common. They both rely on the milkweed plant for food as caterpillars. Their bright orange wings are their natural defense mechanism, serving as a warning to would-be predators that they're poisonous. But even with their defenses, both are fluttering toward extinction.
In the last few decades, monarch populations have seen devastating losses: Western monarch populations dropped by 99%. In 1997, we had 1.2 million. In 2019, we had 30,000. Today, there are just 1,914 western monarchs left.
Their siblings have suffered similar losses: The eastern monarch population has decreased by 80%. Together, nearly 9 out of every 10 monarchs have disappeared.
Milkweed, monarchs' main food source, has vanished before their eyes: At least 1.3 billion milkweed stems have disappeared, leaving monarch caterpillars weak and hungry.
Monarchs don't stand a chance if pesticides continue to kill off milkweed. But thankfully, monarchs' wings aren't their only defense mechanism.
Monarchs have you. We’re calling on U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to give monarchs emergency Endangered Species Act protections. The act, which has a 99% success rate at saving species, could bring monarchs back from the brink of extinction.
But if they’re going to receive them, we’ll need as many voices as we can get to convince Secretary Haaland to tip the scales in favor of saving monarchs.