Words by Smiley Team
One of the poster animals of the ongoing environmental crisis and animal extinction fears is the monarch butterfly.
For years, scientists have estimated that climate change and human impact have been key factors in the butterfly’s decline – but new research suggests that the insect may actually be making a comeback.
A new study by the University of Georgia shows that the monarch is having population growth. Previous studies always tended to suggest that the monarch was incredibly threatened by environmental changes but this study was done on a much larger scale.
It analyzed over 135,000 monarch observations across North America between 1993 and 2018, making it the largest and most comprehensive survey of monarch butterfly populations to date.
Most of the data from the studies is coming from individuals, empowered by the North American Butterfly Association. The Association schedules counts and provides the tools for citizen scientists who will then count the existing monarchs in a 15-mile radius over two days, then send the results to the organization.
Some of those count groups have been around for over 30 years.
“It’s a really amazing dataset that no single scientist — or even maybe all the entomologists in North America couldn’t collectively get a data set like what these regular citizens have put together. It’s really invaluable,” said William Snyder, study co-author, and professor at the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Previous studies often looked at wintering monarch populations, but that isn’t representative of the populations as a whole, and to get a more representative number the spring months should be the baseline. The study also highlights that monarch populations appear to be growing by %1.36 every year.
“The shorter answer is they don’t seem to be hurting for anything,” Andy Davis, a co-author author of the study and an assistant research scientist at the University of Georgia’s Odom School of Ecology, said. “That’s crazy for people to hear, right? People think that monarchs are near extinction, largely because of the well-publicized declines in the wintering colonies.
"People have been planting milkweed and trying to help, and a lot of people have been doing all of these efforts, and most of that is good. So it’s a little weird trying to explain to people that the monarchs are doing well.”
DONATE: Consider donating to the North American Butterfly Association, which works to observe and preserve the animal.
SUPPORT: If you have a garden look into plants, like lavender, that monarchs are attracted to and feed on. It helps in their travel.