Aug 30, 2022 - Things to Do

How Iowans can help save monarch butterflies

Monarch butterflies
Migrating monarchs at Neal Smith Wildflife Refuge on Sept. 12, 2020. Photo courtesy of Eric Burson

Bright orange monarchs are a familiar sight for Iowans as our state serves as an essential breeding ground on their migration path.

  • And you'll like really see them now as they start migrating to Mexico in September.

Yes, but: The sight of them could become a rarity as climate change, deforestation and pesticide use kill off the milkweed that sustains them.

Driving the news: This year, monarchs were placed on the endangered species list for the first time by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

  • Their native population has shrunk at least 22% over the past decade, according to IUCN.

State of play: It's been several years since Iowa has run an analysis on the monarch population count, said Karen Kinkead, the Iowa DNR's Wildlife Diversity Program Coordinator.

  • But the Iowa DNR knows they've been declining over time, Kinkead said.

The Midwest and Iowa have historically been big producers of monarchs. In the spring, they travel north from Mexico and Texas to lay eggs here before venturing farther.

  • Iowa is known as the "heart" of monarch breeding since milkweed used to be prevalent in the state, especially in corn and soybean fields, Kinkead said.
  • After 2000, however, milkweed in farm fields declined to the point "where they were basically nonexistent," according to a 2021 Iowa State report. It coincided with the usage of "Roundup Ready" corn and soybeans.

How to help: There's little we can do to help most endangered species, like polar bears or sea turtles. But there are very real, tangible ways Iowans can help monarch butterflies, Kinkead said.

  • Plant milkweed and native vegetation (even on your apartment balcony!)
  • Avoid pesticides.
  • And consider mowing a little less often.
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