Monarch Butterfly Overview
Where they live
Every November, millions of monarchs fly from southern Canada and the United States. A fraction of these butterflies will overwinter along the coast of California, but the vast majority will come to rest at nine or ten principal sites in Mexico. Most of the butterflies will be found in the Monarch Butterfly Reserve, located in Michoacán, Mexico. These creatures descend upon the forests of Mexico and creates a “golden forest” of fir trees teeming with thousands of monarchs. In recent years, the number of acres of forests covered by wintering butterflies have dramatically decreased due to threats to monarch population and habitat.
What they eat
© Frank Parhizgar / WWF-Canada
In their early caterpillar stage, the monarch’s source of food is the milkweed plant. Butterflies will usually lay their eggs on milkweed plants so that once they hatch, the caterpillar can start feeding on the milkweed leaves. Once the butterflies turn into adults, they can start sipping the nectar from the flowers.
Life cycleThe monarch butterfly goes through four stages in its life cycle: egg, caterpillar (larva), pupa (chrysalis) and butterfly. Once the eggs are laid, the species grows inside the egg for about four days. It then hatches into a caterpillar and feeds on the milkweed plant for about two weeks. The pupa lasts for about ten days and then hatches into a beautiful adult butterfly, whose lives for about 4-6 weeks, unless it is the late summer generation, which lives 6-7 months overwintering in Mexico.
© Frank Parhizgar / WWF-Canada
Protect the flight of the monarchs
Scientific name: Danaus plexippus
Weight: less than ½ gram
Length: wingspan of 7-10 cm
Age: reproductive monarchs live for 5 weeks
Risks they face
Monarchs need mountain forests in Mexico for their winter habitat, however nearby human communities also rely on them and create pressure on forests through agriculture and tourism activities.
In Canada and the U.S., monarchs need places to reproduce and feed. Herbicide use is also decreasing the availability of their primary food source, the milkweed plant.
Climate change threatens to disrupt the monarch’s annual migration pattern by affecting weather conditions both in wintering and summer breeding grounds.
© J.D. Taylor / WWF-Canada
SolutionsWhat Needs to Be Done
- Illegal logging in the Mexican forests, now virtually eliminated, must remain under control.
- Ecotourism needs to be managed sustainably, for the benefit of the local communities and the monarchs
- The elimination of common milkweed from herbicide spraying needs to be examined in Canada and the U.S., since this is the most widespread and abundant of the milkweed species and since the monarch only uses the milkweed group of species as its host plant.
- The task force commissioned by the three heads of government – including Prime Minister Stephen Harper – in 2014 in Mexico to make recommendations on monarch conservation across North America must prepare an urgent and actionable agenda for monarch recovery – it’s report is due when the three leaders meet in Canada in 2015
What WWF is Doing
- WWF is working to conserve the biodiversity and the mosaic of ecosystems within Mexico's most biodiverse regions including the Mesoamerican Reef, the Chihuahuan Desert, the Gulf of California, and the forests of Chiapas and Oaxaca, home to hundreds of unique species.
- WWF is working with the local communities, government and private sector to preserve butterfly habitat – mainly oyamel fir and pine trees – in Mexico by promoting good forest management and reducing illegal logging.
- WWF is strengthening our partnerships with local organizations to develop economic incentives that will encourage local communities to conserve the core zones of the Monarch Reserve.
- WWF is putting Canada on the path to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050. WWF’s Energy Report calls for increased investment in the world’s renewable energy potential.
- WWF is engaging teachers and students on monarchs and wildlife as part of our Schools for a Living Planet education program.
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From the blog
Monarchs find a niche in the concrete jungle
This summer, WWF offers guided walks along Toronto's downtown waterfront to show you how the city is reconnecting to nature. One walker was surprised to spot some special visitors on the walk: monarch butterflies.
Go Wild with WWF-Canada Staff!
WWF-Canada staff share their best ideas for getting people to both enjoy nature in their community and take action for conservation.
Monarch butterfly population recovering but still lowest in years
A recent survey shows a 69% increase in area occupied by monarch butterflies, but this is the second smallest area since 1993. WWF calls on leaders of Canada, Mexico, and the United States in the protection of monarch butterfly migration.