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The Amazing Monarch:
Facts, Conservation and How You Can Help

By Margaret Black


  • Monarch Butterflies go through four completely different stages during their lives?  (egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly) 
  • Monarch caterpillars are strikingly beautiful?  They don’t to need camouflage themselves because the milkweed they eat makes them poisonous to most potential predators
  • Monarch caterpillars grow to 2,000 times their original size between when the hatch and when they enter the chrysalis?
  • There are two populations of North American monarchs?  (the eastern, that overwinters in Mexico, and the western, that overwinters in California)
  • Each North American monarch population has its own migratory route?
  • Monarchs are the only North American butterflies that perform two-way migrations, in huge numbers, from one part of the continent to another?
  • Monarchs complete their migrations by instinct alone?
  • Monarchs cannot complete a round-trip migration in one generation?
  • Monarchs are capable of making transatlantic crossings?  
  • Monarchs are found in the Caribbean Islands, Australia and New Zealand?

It’s no wonder the Monarch Butterfly is the state insect of Alabama, Idaho, Illinois and Texas and the state butterfly of Minnesota, Vermont and West Virginia. In 1989, the Monarch Butterfly was nominated as the national insect of the United States, and the monarch IS the national insect of Canada!

Many people living in Mexico also love Monarch Butterflies. For them, the arrival of eastern monarchs at the overwintering sites near Mexico City is always a celebrated event!  

Researchers estimate that there are several million monarchs in the western population and up to one hundred million in the eastern population.
  These numbers fluctuate greatly, from year to year, because of poor breeding conditions, diseases, parasites, and deaths caused by predators and winter storms. In the past, monarchs have been able to recover but, in recent years, habitat destruction and pesticide use have been making it much harder for monarchs to rebound after huge losses.

Dr. Fred Urquart began searching for the monarch overwintering sites in 1937.  In August 1976, he announced to the world that he had finally found them. The subsequent discovery of the overwintering sites by other field biologists made it possible to launch several conservation initiatives aimed at protecting the species.

In 1983, the World Conservation Union recognized the monarch overwintering sites in Mexico and California as “threatened.” In 1985, five sanctuaries were established to protect overwintering areas in Mexico.  Unfortunately, logging continues in and around the sanctuaries. 

In 1995, the Canadian government protected breeding grounds by making Point Pelee, Long Point and Prince Edward Point in southern Ontario monarch reserves. However, there are still no specific laws protecting monarchs in the US or the rest of Canada.

Many scientists now consider the annual migration of monarchs across North America to be in danger.  


  • Support monarch conservation in Mexico by contributing to the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Foundation. This non-profit organization was established in 1997, by concerned scientists and educators, to protect the overwintering regions from logging and other deforestation.   http://www.mbsf.org/
  • Urge government officials to create laws to protect monarch habitat where you live.  
  • Milkweed is the monarch caterpillar’s only source of food. Plant a garden with milkweed and nectar-bearing flowers to support monarch butterflies. Encourage others to do the same. For more information about monarch-friendly gardens see:   http://www.learner.org/jnorth/unpave/index.html



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