I can’t fault people for wanting to do something concrete to help such a charismatic species as the monarch butterfly. When I was growing up in the 1980s, it seemed these big butterflies were everywhere in our garden! Now, I’m lucky if I see one in a year. They’re one of the most noticeably dwindling species out there. Habitat loss, particularly of fields of native milkweed, is the biggest cause, but increase in the home and commercial use of pesticides like neonicotinoids are also a huge factor as well.

So some people have turned to raising monarchs in safe environments so as to release them back into the wild to bolster populations. Unfortunately, as is all too often the case with captive-bred animals, certain behaviors are missing. In this case, it’s migration that’s the problem. Given that it takes three generations of monarch butterflies to complete a yearly migration, having more butterflies that simply don’t migrate–and therefore die out because they don’t go to where they need to be in time–is an obvious problem.

The identification of this problem is the first step in finding a solution to it. One thing we do know that helps any species to recover is habitat restoration; for monarchs, that means planting as much native milkweed as possible. Make sure you’re planting native milkweed species, as non-native ones may spread disease to the butterflies. Moreover, non-native species often bloom later in the year, which can entice monarchs to delay migration late enough that they are then killed by cold weather.

Further Reading:

Monarch Butterflies Born In Captivity Have Trouble Migrating South, Study Says – a good summary of the issue

Save our Monarchs: Plant Native Milkweed – an overview of why non-native milkweed is so harmful to the already highly vulnerable monarch butterfly

Milkweed Regions and Seed Needs – want to know what milkweed species are native to your area? Check here! Then ask your local nursery if they carry them or check out….

The Milkweed Seed Finder – here’s a great tool for finding nurseries that carry your native milkweed species (and can mail you some seeds!)

Species portrayed: Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa)