Press Release: Monarch Butterflies Now on International Endangered List; Here’s What You Can Do to Help

July 22, 2022 Statements
A monarch butterly sits perched on one of a group of purple cone flowers, with the Museum building blurred in the background.

Monarchs, with their striking orange and black wings, are some of the most well-known butterflies in the US. But the Monarch, whose population has declined by over 80% in the last twenty years, has recently been included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM as Endangered, threatened by habitat destruction and climate change. That means these butterflies are just steps away from extinction.

The eastern population of Monarchs is known for its long-distance migration of up to 3,000 miles across three countries—an epic journey unique among North American butterflies. Monarchs play an important pollinator role in ecosystems. They migrate north through Illinois during the summer months before turning south again in the fall to spend the winter in Mexico. Illinois and other Midwestern states are pivotal pit stops on this journey for summer breeding, which requires milkweed for female Monarchs to lay their eggs and fall nectar resources. 

Field Museum scientists have shown that cities, especially large urban metropolises like  Chicago, are critical sources of milkweed and other native flowers for the Monarch population. 

“What we plant matters,” says Abigail Derby Lewis, Conservation Tools Program Director in the Field Museum’s Keller Science Action Center. “Everyone can take action to help support the Monarch butterfly, which will also help a wide range of other pollinators and even birds.” The Field Museum’s Rice Native Gardens provide an eye-catching example of how native plantings can create an oasis for Monarchs, but even individual plants in home gardens make a big difference.

To help Monarchs survive and thrive along their journey, plant pesticide-free milkweed species native to your region, along with native flowers that will bloom across the growing season, wherever you have space– in the ground, in pots, or on your balcony. Small individual actions collectively add up to significant gains for Monarchs as well as other butterflies and bees. For more information on how to become involved in supporting Monarchs, visit our Urban Monarch Conservation page.