Rescue our beloved and endangered monarch butterflies

Pesticides, the loss of food sources and the loss of habitat are a triple threat for monarchs, the state insect of Illinois.

SHARE Rescue our beloved and endangered monarch butterflies
A monarch butterfly at the Sanctuary of El Rosario, Ocampo municipality, Michoacan state, Mexico in 2020.

A monarch butterfly at the Sanctuary of El Rosario, Ocampo municipality, Michoacan state, Mexico in 2020.

Enrique Castro/AFP via Getty Images

Not long ago, the dazzling migrations of exquisite monarch butterflies were a welcome and dependable sign of the changing seasons in Chicago.

These days, though, it’s harder to get a glimpse of the popular insect as their numbers plunge. As a state and as a nation, we can help the butterflies by expanding connected habitat pathways, reducing the use of pesticides where monarchs migrate and planting more milkweed, the only food for monarch caterpillars. Adults feed on the nectar of flowers.

On July 21, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a global conservation organization, placed the striking orange-and-black monarch on its “red list” of threatened species and listed it as “endangered,” which is just two steps above extinct.

That should set off alarm bells. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to put the monarch on the federal endangered list, which it should do promptly. The Illinois Legislature, where monarch-friendly legislation has tended to splat like a butterfly hitting a windshield on the highway, should act as well.

Editorials bug

Editorials

“The loss of food sources, the loss of habitat and pesticides are a triple threat for monarchs,” Jennifer Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, told us.

Because Illinois is an important state for migrating monarchs, “Illinois should do more than the federal government,” Walling said.

The number of Eastern monarchs, the ones you see in the Chicago area and that account for most of the population in North America, dropped by 84% from 1996 to 2014. Western monarchs have declined by 99.9%.

In the longest known insect migration, Eastern monarchs, the state insect of Illinois, travel huge distances from Mexico to as far north as Canada. Western monarchs travel between western California and other states west of the Rocky Mountains.

Opinion Newsletter

Illinois farm owners — which often now are foreign companies that have bought up agricultural acreage — have taken to spraying glyphosate, which kills milkweed, widely on their fields. They also often use seeds that are bred to contain neonicotinoids, also called neonics, which make entire plants toxic to insects.

It’s not just monarch butterflies that are struggling. A healthier environment for monarchs also would help other insect species, including pollinators, and birds. A healthier population of pollinators would help Illinois’ economy.

To help, many Illinois residents are now planting milkweed. And, since 2020, the Illinois Department of Transportation has tried to protect as much milkweed as it can as it mows along highways.

But the numbers show those efforts aren’t enough. The state and federal governments need to crawl out of their chrysalises and do more to help. 

Want to write a letter to the editor or submit an op-ed for the Sun-Times? See our guidelines

The Latest
As the two generations feud, man makes cruel ultimatum: The marriage is over unless wife stops visiting and communicating with the couple’s son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren.
Stan Gehrt and Kerry Luft bring urban coyotes to the general public with “Coyotes Among Us,” a book written from the perspective of 20 years of studying coyotes at the Cook County-based Urban Coyote Research Project.
Chicago mirrors a nationwide trend where more renters are spending at least 30% of their income on rent and utilities.
The Servites order has had numerous priests and brothers accused of sexual abuse and faces an onslaught of new lawsuits. But, unlike many dioceses and orders, the group has no public list of members deemed to have been credibly accused of sexual abuse. And other church lists are incomplete.
Kate Winslet stars in irritating HBO series as a European tyrant whose cruelty is seldom interesting .