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Discover Nature: Monarch Butterflies

This week on Discover Nature, learn about monarch butterflies and what you can do to help protect them.

In Missouri, monarchs are found in a wide variety of habitats: fields and grasslands, roadsides, and urban and suburban plantings. They are famous for their annual migration to overwinter in Mexico.

Monarch populations are declining throughout North America and may soon have federal protected status.

On July 21, 2022, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) placed the migratory monarch the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, listing it as endangered, and noting that its primary threats are habitat destruction and climate change. The IUCN is an international group of government and civil society organizations headquartered in Switzerland. Announcing the decision, the IUCN noted that the migratory monarch, "…has shrunk by between 22% and 72% over the past decade.”

A variety of factors are causing the numbers of this iconic species to decline. Habitat loss in their overwintering territory in Mexico is one cause. Also, herbicide use throughout North America has been eliminating milkweeds, their required larval food plant, as well as eliminating the once-common scrubby fencerows and other tracts of various wildflowers adults need for nectar. Especially in the Midwest, herbicide-resistant strains of crops allow farmers to eradicate nearly all non-crop herbaceous plants, including milkweeds, across vast areas, eliminating places for the monarch to breed and feed. To conserve the monarch, we must allow milkweeds to grow.

Missourians are encouraged to plant milkweeds for the larvae and a variety of native wildflowers that supply nectar throughout the entire growing season for the adults.

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