The monarch butterfly population is in jeopardy after US officials announced it would not receive endangered protection status.
Despite a severe decline in numbers, one of the most recognisable and well studied butterflies is being precluded from becoming a threatened species. The Trump administration called the monarch butterfly a “candidate” for designation, but said that other species must take priority.
This could mean the butterflies receive protection in the future, but not for several years.
It is estimated that the monarch population in the eastern states has fallen by about 80 per cent since the mid 1990s. Their decline is due to increased use of farm pesticides, the destruction of milkweed plants (a major food source), and climate change.
The species is very sensitive to temperature and weather changes, so climate change can affect biological processes, like the ability to reproduce.
Numbers are down from the ‘dangerously low’ levels of fewer than 30,000 over the past two years. Monarch butterflies are a “unique yet fragile piece of North America’s natural history,” Paige Howorth of San Diego Zoo Global told CBS.
But they are “on the brink of collapse,” she added.
Monarchs have orange wings laced with black lines and bordered with white dots. They are famous for their seasonal migration, during which time millions travel from the US and Canada to California and Mexico for the winter.
Some migrate up to 3,000 miles as, according to National Geographic, they have a special gene for highly efficient muscles which gives them an advantage for long-distance flight.
So far, the Trump administration has only added 25 species to the Endangered Species Act, in stark comparison to the Obama administration, which listed 360.
Why is preserving butterflies so important?
The iconic species is an important pollinator and should be protected at all costs, say experts. Public awareness campaigns exist in the US to encourage people to plant milkweed in their back gardens, and conservation projects exist all over the country.
We spoke to Dan Hoare, director of conservation at UK wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation, to find out more.
“At a time when the world is waking up to devastating declines of insects across the globe, weakening the legislation that protects them is a disaster that undermines urgently needed conservation efforts,” he tells Euronews Living, adding that the monarch butterfly “fully warrants protection under the endangered species act.”
“Recovering this species will require habitat restoration efforts at a continental scale and to reduce habitat loss, agricultural intensification and pesticide use that is driving this species towards extinction.”
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Great Lakes office, the species' status will continue to be reviewed annually.