There is no questioning the beauty of a monarch butterfly. The simple elegance of these gentle insects is enough to make even the biggest bug-phobe pause in admiration. However, this beauty is not quite enough to protect the monarch butterfly from impending extinction. Although they can be found on every continent, except Antartica, the population of monarch butterflies has fallen by a stark 90 percent in recent years.

These delicate insects are highly sensitive to temperature and weather fluctuations associated with climate change, and like many other species, they are threatened by habitat loss and the proliferation of toxic pesticides. Much attention has been given to the plight of the honey bee because of the important role they play in pollinating our food supply, but the same scale of attention has not been expended to the butterfly species which is also a critical pollinator.

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Around 90 percent of plants need a pollinator to reproduce, so if we lose the butterfly, we stand to see a significant drop in plant diversity.

Thankfully, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is stepping up to protect the monarch butterfly and has put forward $3.2 million into a public-private partnership that will help conserve this species. Around $1.2 million of the funds have been delegated to create the Monarch Conservation Fund, which is to be run by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The other $2 million is devoted to a program that will create a habitat filled with milkweed and other plants that feed monarchs on 200,000 acres of land administrated by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The decision to fund this habitat and conservation work comes after the Center for Food Safety tied Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides and Roundup ready crops (genetically modified) to the decline of milkweed, which has contributed immensely to the loss of the monarch. The goal of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s program is to restore the milkweed population and in turn save the monarch.

We certainly hope that the creation of a safe monarch habitat and a renewed focus on this important species will enable monarchs not only to survive but flourish in coming years. While we admire them for their beauty, these incredible insects play a large role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem for all living things, so it is more vital than ever that we do all we can to protect them. 

Image source: Liz West/Flickr