Renewed effort to save monarch butterflies takes flight


Art by Rizlin Jew '22

Monarch butterflies are important creatures historically, culturally, spiritually, and environmentally.

Zion Wells '23, Staff Reporter

Monarch butterflies are  milkweed butterflies in the family  of Nymphalidae. These butterflies  could also be called Common Tiger,  Wanderer, Black Veined Brown,  and North American Butterfly.  The names change, depending on  the region.  

Monarch Butterflies are a  symbol of life, regeneration, and  hope. However, the population of  these butterflies is moving closer  to extinction. 

According to, “The  number of western monarch  butterflies wintering along the  California coast has plummeted  precipitously to a record low,  putting the orange-and-black  insects closer to extinction.” With this decrease, the  monarch butterflies are taking a  massive hit. 

Colleen O’Rourke, Science  Department Chair, said, “Many  native wild insects have seen  severely declining population  numbers in recent years, largely  because of increased pesticide  use—both at homes and for  agriculture—and loss of habitat.  For monarchs, they have been hit  with an extra blow because their  primary food source—milkweed plants—has also been declining  in numbers.” 

 O’Rourke explained, “Milkweeds  have been reduced because of loss  of native habitat and also because  people often consider them weeds  and pull them out of places where  they do manage to grow.” 

 Focusing on their habitat may  be the path to their salvation.   “Limiting pesticide use, or  being more careful about when  and how pesticides are used, is  key,” O’Rourke said.  

Although on the surface it might seem like  we’re focusing on just one species,  in reality the effort to help the  monarchs will help a lot of other  species in return.”

— Colleen O'Rourke, Science Department Chair

“In addition, many native  plant groups encourage people to  intentionally plant more milkweed  plants in their yards and gardens,  and to leave wild milkweeds alone  whenever possible. It’s important  to note that only certain types  of milkweeds are native to  California and used by monarchs  on the West Coast, so please check  with a native plant nursery or the  website of the California Native  Plant Society to make sure you’re  choosing the correct type.” 

So, they can be saved, but  some question if the effort to do  so should commence. According to  Science Magazine, “The U.S. Fish  and Wildlife Service announced  [on Dec. 15] it will not yet protect  one of North America’s best butterflies under the Endangered  Species Act. The agency concluded  that the iconic black and orange  monarch has suffered population  declines steep enough to possibly  qualify for federal protection, but  FWS will take no action at this  time because 161 species already  being considered for the list are a  higher priority for support from  the agency’s limited budget.” 

O’Rourke countered this with,  “Protecting biodiversity is the  primary goal of most modern  ecological movements. Although on the surface it might seem like  we’re focusing on just one species,  in reality the effort to help the  monarchs will help a lot of other  species in return.” 

She added, “Finally, one cannot  discount the human cultural cost  of losing the monarch butterfly.  Monarchs have been a profound  spiritual symbol for human  populations for thousands of  years. . . . Losing these beautiful  insects would mean losing a  significant part of ourselves, one  which may never truly recover.”