Monarch Butterflies Vulnerable to Extinction

10 March 2015 | The Xerces Society News Release

PORTLAND, Ore.—A newly completed assessment has found that monarch butterflies in North America are vulnerable to extinction. The assessment was undertaken by NatureServe and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, and results were published in a report released by the U.S. Forest Service yesterday.

NatureServe and the Xerces Society used NatureServe’s conservation status assessment methodology to determine the level of imperilment of the monarch. The methodology has been successfully applied to hundreds of species of animals. Using data on population abundance, trends, and threats, the team of scientists determined that while the monarch butterfly species as a whole, Danaus plexippus, is apparently secure, the subspecies occurring in North America, Danaus plexippus plexippus, is vulnerable to extinction. Under the assessment, the North American monarchs were split into an eastern population that migrates from as far north as southern Canada to central Mexico each fall, and a smaller western population, that largely migrates to coastal California to spend the winter. The eastern monarch population was assessed as “critically imperiled” due to recent rapid decline and widespread threats. The western population, with a slightly slower rate of decline and less widespread threats, was categorized as “vulnerable to imperiled.”

“Our findings show that even a widespread and common insect can face dramatic population declines in an alarmingly short period of time,” said Bruce Young, NatureServe’s Director of Species Science. “The time is now to intensify continent-wide efforts to reduce the threats to this iconic species and prevent it from succumbing to the fate that has befallen far too many other species.”

The assessment was done as part of a report prepared for the U.S. Forest Service. The report, Conservation Status and Ecology of the Monarch Butterfly in the United States, summarizes the monarch’s North American distribution, life history, population, current conservation status, and potential causes of decline. In addition, the authors include a set of breeding and overwintering habitat management recommendations. This report aims to inform government agencies charged with biodiversity protection, as well as conservation organizations and the public in general, about the threats to and current conservation status of this much-loved, iconic insect.

“The conclusions of this assessment are consistent with the widespread reports that the monarch population has declined,” said Sarina Jepsen, endangered species director at the Xerces Society. “We now need to restore vast areas of the landscape with milkweed – the monarch butterfly’s essential host plant – and nectar plants if we hope to save this spectacular migration.”



The images below can be used by any media outlet. Please include a photo credit with any use.

Credit: Courtesy hspauldi/Wikimedia Commons

Credit: Courtesy hspauldi/Wikimedia Commons

Credit: Carly Voight/The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation

Credit: Carly Voight/The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation


For More Information

Download Conservation Status and Ecology of the Monarch Butterfly in the United States.

Read more about Xerces’ Monarch Conservation Campaign, including efforts to conserve overwintering sites in California and restore breeding habitat in key regions of the United States.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
Protecting the Life that Sustains Us

The Xerces Society is a nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat. Since 1971, the Society has been at the forefront of invertebrate protection, harnessing the knowledge of scientists and the enthusiasm of citizens to implement conservation programs worldwide. To learn more about our work or to donate to the Society, please visit

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NatureServe is a non-profit organization that provides high-quality scientific expertise for conservation. Our dynamic and impactful data, tools, and resources help guide conservation action where it’s needed most. We envision a world where decision-makers fully understand the importance of science in identifying and protecting our precious animals, plants, and ecosystems. To learn more about NatureServe, please visit

Sarina Jepsen, Endangered Species Program Director, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation; (971) 244-3727,
Bruce Young, Director of Species Science, NatureServe; (703) 908-1805,

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