Monarch Butterfly 2014 Update

The migratory Monarch butterfly population has dropped by 90% in the last 20 years. Find out what's being done to help them.

Jill Staake

If you’re a butterfly gardener, there’s no doubt you already know about the plight of the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). The last few years have seen a precipitous decline in the numbers of the major migratory population, with scientists estimating a drop of a whopping 90% in the last 20 years. In a recent press release, Tierra Curry of the Center for Biological Diversity tried to put that statistic into perspective, saying, “The 90 percent drop in the monarch’s population is a loss so staggering that in human-population terms it would be like losing every living person in the United States except those in Florida and Ohio.”

Monarchs 2014

A monarch rests on the sand in Michigan.

Scientists agree that the biggest threat to these butterflies is loss of habitat. As most folks know by now, Monarchs require milkweed for their caterpillars. While native to most areas of the U.S. and Canada, milkweed is considered a weed to commercial farmers and ranchers. In recent years, herbicide-resistant forms of crops like corn and soybean have been bred and planted extensively, allowing farmers to spray their fields indiscriminately with Roundup, killing milkweed (and other weeds and wildflowers) and leaving huge areas in the middle of the country devoid of the one plant monarchs really need. (Learn more here, including why milkweed in Texas is especially important.)

Monarchs 2014

Common Milkweed abounds in northern Michigan, as did Monarch spottings recently.

It’s not all bad news, though. Sometimes it takes something really major to get the public’s attention, and this information could be it. A group of scientists and organizations is now pushing to have the Monarch listed as “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, which would provide special protection to this butterfly and its habitat. In Mexico, the government has moved to protect the winter roosting sites. Closer to home, local butterfly gardeners are doing all they can to help, adding milkweed to home and public gardens and spreading the word along the way.

On a recent trip to the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Park in western Michigan, I was thrilled to see large stands of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) everywhere. Even better was the sight of dozens of monarchs flying around the area. By late August, this generation is the one that will soon begin its migration to Mexico. They’ll need all the help they can get to make their 2,000 mile journey, so if you live in the eastern half of the U.S., now’s the time to fill your butterfly garden with late-blooming flowers to sustain them along the way.

Have you spotted monarch butterflies or caterpillars on your milkweed this year? Drop by our Community forums and share your sightings to help Birds & Blooms track where the monarchs were in 2014.

  1. says

    I have 2 Monarchs in my yard and I think they came for the milkweed I just planted this year! What a treat as I used to see them when I lived in Mexico by the millions.

  2. Rose Kuhn says

    We have seen very few monarchs this year, and those that we’ve seen seem smaller than usual. We do have plenty of Orange Milkweed in our garden, but so far have only noticed one caterpillar–just last week (the last of August). But it was nearly ready to pupate, so maybe it will join the migration. We have had so very much rain at times here in southern Indiana, that it may make it difficult for their wings to dry enough for flight.

  3. says

    One year, I lay in our hammock in the back yard and witnessed wave after wave of the Monarchs heading south. It is sad their habitats in Mexico have been destroyed by loggers. They are endangered. We planted lots of milkweed and saw numerous fluttering around them.this spring. We have hope they will make it so they can repeat the cycle. Monarchs are so beautiful, their wings resemble stained glass.

  4. says

    I’m hoping those caterpillar we have are actually Monarch’s to be! We live on the coast in N.C. off the Currituck Sound in a new neighborhood. My husband, and I planted a few Milkweed last summer because I had read they were needed for the Monarch’s to survive. We also did our garden for butterflies, and hummingbirds planting all the flowers they enjoy along with several butterfly bushes, & lantanna. We’re in a new neighborhood, and had tons of butterflies up until this summer because they finally built houses all around us, and the lots had a bunch of wildflowers, & probably milkweed too for them to lay their eggs. I couldn’t have been more thrilled when he brought the caterpillar in 3 nights ago to show me, and said there were several more! Only saw a few butterflies this summer..praying next will be a ton more!!

  5. says

    I live in central Florida. For the past month I have seen very few monarch’s. Being that, I have had no eggs on my milkweed. Could the heat be the problem? This past May, June, July and part of August, I had to buy more milkweed plants as they were “very hungry”…So, I had many monarch butterflies.

  6. Ethel says

    We live in west central Illinois & have seen several Monarch caterpillars on our milkweed. The last one was 2 days ago. We,also, planted more milkweed this year.

  7. Mary says

    We are up in East Tawas, Michigan on Lake Huron. The first week of September we had at least a dozen monarchs in our yard. We also had hundreds of dragonflies along with them. I have converted a raised vegetable garden into a butterfly garden. They are loving the butterfly weed and cone flower. Where can I buy milkweed plants?

  8. cathy cerniglia says

    I planted Milkweed this Spring. Have seen several cats and lots of Monarchs. I don’t think the Monarchs migrate from So. CA. Very exciting.! Very hardy plants. Don’t know where they turn into chrysalis.. but they must know what they are doing!

  9. Elizabeth says

    Two days ago I found 3 catepillars (2 in 4-5 instar, one in 1 instar) in a city flowerbed that had no milkweed left in it, and insecticide being sprayed nearby on the sidewalk. I’ve brought them home indoors to feed on my milkweed and one just pupated today. I did actually see a live adult here in my yard in late June, but nothing in my milkweed (thanks for the great egg pics btw, now I know more what to look for!)

  10. Brian says

    I live in Western New York. This summer my family raised 22 Monarchs from eggs laid on milk weed in the garden. We released 18 and have had to care for four of them due to unexplained wing deform. This is the second year we have raised them. It is so cool to watch the process.

  11. Kay says

    I have 20 chrysalises in my kitchen windows, hoping some hatch and head south before winter. We used to do this when I was a kid and monarch butterflies were numerous then. Having this many show up on my wild milkweeds made me try this so I hope my grandchildren and great grandchildren will be able to see monarchs still when they are adults.

  12. Sue Lemberger says

    I have a lot of milkweed in the field around my house but the caterplllers were scarce. I found two quite large ones but they were dead on the weed leaves. I managed to get three and put them in an enclosure with a screen top. I have three chrysalis now but they aren’t hatching and I don’t know why. It is pretty cold here in Wisconsin. (47 degrees)

  13. cinjas says

    The number of monarchs I have seen this summer is definitely up from last summer. I have been able to find more eggs and caterpillars, too. So far, I have been able to release about 10 butterflies. I still have 6 caterpillars. My preschoolers have had fun watching the caterpillars and chrysalisses.

  14. Shawn Smith says

    Hi I live in the Thumb of Michigan and I have a lot of milkweed by me and in the fields and I have hatched from the egg to the butterfly 125 and I’m almost done with them for this year! Had a pretty good year here compared to last year only had 10 last year!! Been a very better year here! Our farmer sprayed the field but I did get to save a few!! Really enjoy this.Thank you

    • DEb says

      The seeds have to be cold over the winter. I had difficulty even trying that so I just dug up some in the spring and transplanted them to my yard. They need full to part shade. Good luck.

  15. says

    I rescued 24 caterpillars from three milkweed plants. They were devouring the leaves there would not have been enough food for them. The butterfly must have laid all her eggs on the three stems. I got two clear large plastic containers and put cheesecloth netting on them. I changed out the milkweed as needed. I only lost one sick caerpillar. All became chrysalis. I only had three die and become black. The rest flew away. At the end of August any other caterpillars i found I put them out in our Monarch WayStation.

  16. Melanie says

    In our Windsor, PA school butterfly garden, we have found this week four caterpillars of various sizes, three chrysalis, but have only seen a few adults.

  17. says

    Last year I had many many Monarchs in my garden where I provided milk weed plants(orange flowers) for them. I would move caterpillars around so they would have enough to eat. Then there were more and more. This year I went out and again purchased plants. No one came!! I have been quite disappointed, I live in Sarasota, Florida.

  18. Karenna says

    I live in eastern Ontario, Canada & this year we have had the pleasure of Monarch butterflies in our yard and around the nearby town.
    I have not seen a chrysalis , but milkweed does grow in the fields around us.

    Sad to know they are now so endangered!

  19. DEb says

    I’ve raised and tagged 35 butterflies so far, more males than females. I still have 10 caterpillars to go. I’m in Worcester, PA.

  20. Dawn says

    I live along the St. Clair River, at the southern end of Lake Huron and separating MI from Canada. Several of the cities along its length are revitalizing their River Walks with natural plants, including milkweed. Last week I saw maybe six Monarchs which appeared to be on migration from Canada. Hopefully, the milkweed will be an attraction for them next summer.

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