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Monarch Butterfly

Overview

  • Status
    Near Threatened
  • Scientific Name
    Danaus plexippus
  • Weight
    less than half a gram
  • Length
    Wingspan 4 IN.
  • Habitats
    Forests, Mountains

Monarch butterflies embark on a marvelous migratory phenomenon. They travel between 1,200 and 2,800 miles or more from the United States and Canada to central Mexican forests. There the butterflies hibernate in the mountain forests, where a less extreme climate provides them a better chance to survive. The monarch butterfly is known by scientists as Danaus plexippus, which in Greek literally means "sleepy transformation." The name evokes the species' ability to hibernate and metamorphize. Adult monarch butterflies possess two pairs of brilliant orange-red wings, featuring black veins and white spots along the edges. Males, who possess distinguishing black dots along the veins of their wings, are slightly bigger than females. Each adult butterfly lives only about four to five weeks.

Monarch Population Hits Lowest Point in More Than 20 Years

In the most recent migration, fewer of the orange- and red-winged monarchs made it to the end of the journey than ever before. The monarch butterfly population in Mexico was the lowest ever since 1993.

monarchs in sky

Why They Matter

  • The monarch butterfly exhibits the most highly evolved migration pattern of any known species of butterfly or moth and perhaps any known insect.

Threats

  • Extinction Risk Near Threatened
    1. EX
      Extinct

      No reasonable doubt that the last individual has died

    2. EW
      Extinct in the Wild

      Known only to survive in cultivation, in captivity or as a naturalised population

    3. CR
      Critically Endangered

      Facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the Wild

    4. EN
      Endangered

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    5. VU
      Vulnerable

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    6. NT
      Near Threatened

      Likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future

    7. LC
      Least Concern

      Does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, or Near Threatened

Swarm of Monarch butterflies

Habitat Loss

Monarchs need mountain forests in Mexico for their winter habitat, however nearby human communities also rely on them and create pressure on forests through agriculture and tourism activities.

In the U.S., monarchs need places to reproduce and feed. However, herbicide use is decreasing the availability of their primary food source, the milkweed plant (Asclepias).  

Climate change threatens to disrupt the monarch butterfly’s annual migration pattern by affecting weather conditions in both wintering grounds and summer breeding grounds. Colder, wetter winters could be lethal to these creatures and hotter, drier summers could shift suitable habitats north. WWF’s 2013 report from Mexico showed that the number of monarch butterflies wintering there was at its lowest in 20 years. The number is measured by the amount of forest they occupy, and in 2013 the number of butterfly acres decreased from approximately seven to three. Abnormal patterns of drought and rainfall in the U.S. and Canada breeding sites may have caused adult butterfly deaths and less plant food for caterpillars. Fewer butterflies up north mean fewer then migrate south to Mexico for the winter.

What WWF Is Doing

Monarch Butterfly

WWF works to preserve vital butterfly habitat in Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Reserve by promoting good forest management and sustainable tourism. WWF also supports tree nurseries that help restore the forest in the Reserve which creates new sources of income for the local communities that live among the butterflies. Read more about WWF’s work with local communities to protect monarch habitat in Mexico.

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