Not too long ago, the coast of California was well-known for its population of beautiful monarch butterflies. Traditionally these butterflies pass through the area as they migrate back north from Mexico each Spring. They travel thousands of miles to lay their eggs in the warmer climate of the cost each winter.

In recent years, however, California has seen a significant decrease in the number of monarch butterflies. The number of monarchs found in their typical overwintering sites has dropped by 89% in the last year alone. The area now only sees 30,000 butterflies instead of the 148,000 butterflies of the prior year. Unfortunately, this isn’t simply caused by a natural fluctuation. This year displays a 96% drop from the 1980s. Two decades ago, the Californian coast saw 10 million monarch butterflies migrate each year.

Monarch butterflies are extremely sensitive when it comes to laying their eggs. Their larvae can only eat milkweed. Pesticides and urban sprawl have reduced the amount of milkweed plants, leaving the monarchs without a safe place to lay their eggs.

Although the outlook is grim, the fate of the monarch butterfly may not yet be sealed. There is plenty you can do to help!

Plant Milkweed

Consider planting milkweed in your yard and garden. Milkweed is the only plant on which monarch butterflies can lay their eggs. Although there are a wide variety of milkweed species, there is normally at least one that is native to your area! These plants will help attract monarch butterflies to your yard and give the larvae a safe place to hatch.

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Build a Healthy Habitat

Don’t just stop at planting milkweed. Grow nectar plants to give adult butterflies the energy they need. Native plants in the sunflower family are attractive especially rich in nectar or monarchs.

Butterflies also need water. You can provide for them by digging shallow divots in the ground and keeping them moist. Include shrubs where the butterflies can roost safely at night.

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Stop Using Pesticides

Another important action you can take to help is to quit utilizing pesticides in your garden. The pesticides kill monarch butterflies as well as other important insects. Instead, begin gardening organically. Encourage natural methods of pest control by making your backyard more bird-friendly. Pick Japanese beetles off your plants by hand instead of spraying insecticides.

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Although the monarch population has decreased substantially in recent years, don’t lose hope. Bringing them back is possible, but it requires significant effort from us on their behalf. Seeing thousands of butterflies fly north through California, however, will certainly be worth every effort.

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  • Barry Nerhus

    Experienced Biologist and Environmental Enthusiast

    Barry Nerhus is the founder and senior biologist of Endemic Environmental Services, Inc. He is also the president of the Institute for Conservation Research and Education. Barry strongly believes in understanding and conserving the environment as well as habitats throughout southern California. Having a passion for conservation biology, Barry also teaches part-time at a local community college to educate individuals!