Eastern Monarch Butterflies Near Extinction? 84 Percent Drop And Counting Could Signal Complete Disappearance

The majestic eastern monarch butterflies could soon go extinct. Their numbers have dropped substantially within the last twenty years and unless the downward spiral in their population is reversed, these beautiful and delicate creatures could vanish within the next twenty years.

A long term study has indicated that the Eastern population of North American monarch butterflies has significantly eroded over the last twenty years. If the trend continues, chances of the butterflies going extinct in the next twenty years are quite high. The study was jointly conducted by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at U.C. San Diego and U.S. Geological Survey.

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, found that the Eastern migratory monarch population declined by 84 percent from the winter of 1996-1997 to the winter of 2014-2015, reported Phys. If the pace of decline is extrapolated, the study claims there’s a strong chance in the range of 11 to 57 percent that the species would go in to quasi-extinction over the next 20 years. It essentially means there won’t be enough members of the species to ensure a sustainable population growth. Such a state is usually a precursor to complete extinction.

Quite a few species in the world today are in the state of quasi extinction. It simply means while a few members of the species are alive and would continue to exist for a short while, the population, and eventually the species, will go extinct in the near future. Too few members aren’t enough to help the population grow, sustain, or recover. While multiple conservation techniques can be employed to prolong the existence of the species, the long term outlook is almost always bad.

Precise census is quite difficult to come by, but scientific estimation techniques maintained by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has shown a drastic reduction of 84 percent in the last decade. Incidentally, Western monarch butterflies, which live west of the Rocky Mountains, were not included in the study, but multiple studies have strongly indicated that these, too, have experienced massive decline in population over the years.

The population of the eastern monarch butterflies is estimated based on the area these delicate creatures cover. The lowest point in their existence came in in the winter of 2013-2014, when the butterflies covered just 1.7 acres of land. Fortunately, multiple conservation efforts have helped in protecting their habitats and helping population of the butterflies recover. This winter, the species covered about 10 acres, but conservationists note the improvements aren’t enough to ward off long-term decline. About twenty years ago, the eastern monarch butterflies majestically covered nearly 45 acres.

The rapid decline in the population of the butterflies is attributed to the large scale reduction in breeding habitats, reported Ars Technica. According to Vox, United States has lost more than a billion milkweed plants in the last twenty-odd years and continues to kill around 2 million annually. The equally fragile plants are quite vulnerable to herbicides, but are more threatened by farmers, who are destroying the vegetation to convert grasslands into agricultural lands.

The eastern monarch butterflies rely only on the milkweed to nurture their young. These butterflies not only lay their highly fragile eggs in the vegetation, the milkweed is also the only food source for the caterpillars until they blossom into the beautiful monarch butterflies.

Conservation efforts include planting milkweed plants on private gardens and along large stretches of highways. Many environmentalists have also proposed setting up a Environmental Defense Fund, initiative nicknamed the “Airbnb for butterflies.” The funds would be allotted to farmers and landowners as a compensation to keep large swathes of land reserved for milkweed plants.

The eastern monarch butterfly can be saved from extinction, but only if large scale conservation efforts are undertaken immediately, caution conservationists.

[Photo by Susana Gonzalez/Getty Images]