Reporter’s notebook: Monarch butterflies become rare. What can we do? 

While I was gathering information about monarch butterflies in Oklahoma, I learned devastating news about their numbers came on the air. The Washington Post, TV stations, and other mass media reported that The International Union for Conservation of Nature had put the migrating monarchs in the category of “endangered.” 

Before going into details about the endangerment, let’s take a closer look at one of the earth’s precious creatures. The monarchs have two sets of wings of brown color with black lines and white dots. The wingspan reaches from three to four inches. The butterflies fly 3,000 miles in the air, in the United States every year. The monarchs are able to move their wings up to 120 times per minute and fly with a speed of four to 12 miles per hour. 

Butterflies and insects are more complex creatures than we think. They have brains, hearts and compound eyes. A butterfly has a heart the length of its body. The insect’s nervous system is situated in the thorax. A butterfly has 17,000 mini eyes with its own lens and photo-receptors for nine colors. 

The Washington Post describes the migration process of the monarch butterflies; “After wintering in the mountains of central Mexico, the butterflies migrate north, breeding multiple generations along the way for thousands of miles. The offspring that reach southern Canada then begin the trip back to Mexico at the end of summer.” 

The monarch butterflies in the United States are divided by scientists into western and eastern types. The western population declined dramatically since the 1980s. There were about 10 million monarchs back then, and now about 2,000 are counted. It is a crucial, 99.9 percent decline! The butterflies are on the edge of disappearing in the western part of the country. The eastern population diminished also by 84 percent from 1996 to 2014. 

What are the reasons for the monarchs to be disappearing? Scientists mention that the butterflies’ enemies are pesticides, urban sprawls, illegal logging of the forests, and overall the climate change. 

One of the ways to stop the extinction process of the monarchs is to grow gardens with milkweed and nectar plants. The butterflies lay eggs on milkweed. Euchee Butterfly Farm in Leonard, Okla., is a project organized by Muscogee (Creek) Native Americans to preserve monarchs and other native species. Natives Raising Natives was founded in 2013. It is the only tribal butterfly farming program in Oklahoma according to the website www.nativebutterflies.org.  Euchee Butterfly Farm offers tours and spaces for weddings and other events. 

A monarch butterfly enjoys gathering nectar from a wild flower growing by Keystone Lake in Oklahoma. Photo by Tatyana Nyborg.