Second Smallest Monarch Numbers on Record Means Few Will be Seen this Summer in Parts of the U.S.

Listen to Reagan Calk talk with Chip Taylor about the monarch butterfly migration and population.

Authorities in Mexico City have announced that the size of the eastern monarch butterfly population that overwinters in Mexico is the second smallest on record. Associate Farm Editor, Reagan Calk, had the chance to talk with Chip Taylor, the founding director of Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas about factors that impact the monarch population.

In 1992, Taylor founded Monarch Watch, an education, conservation, and research program that focuses on the monarch butterfly, its habitat, and its spectacular fall migration. Monarch Watch is based at KU within the Kansas Biological Survey & Center for Ecological Research.

Taylor said the monarch butterflies that are still in Mexico City must make it through the rest of the winter before migrating about 800 miles north to Texas. The path the monarchs will be taking north is currently in drought, he added, which means less nectar and water availability, which is essential for their migration.

“Then what we have to have is good timing when they arrive and good numbers,” Taylor said. “If the timing and numbers are good, and the March temperatures are average, the population will grow nicely. If the March temperatures are too hot, which they have been getting too hot lately, then I wouldn’t put any bet on how fast this population will come back.

Currently, Taylor said it appears that the number of monarchs coming back into the United States will be lower than they have been in 20 years, which is not a good sign. However, Taylor said the monarch butterfly is resilient and has a high productive rate.

Taylor said weather and habitat availability play a big role in the long-term view of the monarch numbers.

“The drought really extended into Mexico in an unusual way, and much further into Mexico than we had ever seen drought dip before,” Taylor said. “The drought extended into an area the butterflies use all the time.”

This year’s butterfly numbers are less than half of last year’s, Taylor said, at .9 hectares, or 2.47 acres. The numbers are measured by the amount of trees that are covered in butterflies, Taylor added.

“Now, we have to cross our fingers that the conditions will be right when they come back in terms of the weather,” Taylor said. “At the same time, because we are losing a lot of habitats across the country, maybe a million acres a year of grasslands and, of course, loss due to urban development and urban sprawl, we are losing a lot. If we don’t compensate for those losses, we will eventually lose this migration.”

To help with the recovery of the monarch butterfly, Taylor said the Monarch Waystation Program was born.

Monarch Waystations are places that provide resources necessary for monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their migration. Without milkweeds throughout their spring and summer breeding areas in North America, monarchs would not be able to produce the successive generations that culminate in the migration each fall. Similarly, without nectar from flowers, these fall migratory monarch butterflies would be unable to make their long journey to overwintering grounds in Mexico.

To recover, monarchs will need an abundance of milkweeds and nectar sources. There will need to be more milkweed and nectar plants in the ground.

More information about the low population numbers can be found on the Monarch Watch Blog (

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