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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The iconic orange and black Monarch butterfly has landed on an international endangered species list. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has put the species on its “red list” due to declines in the Monarch butterfly population.
“The monarch butterfly has been on the radar for a while in decline. A lot of conservationists have been sounding that alarm. But it’s great to see this recent designation from an international organization,” said Kendall McCarter, chief development officer for the Tennessee Wildlife Federation.
While many are happy to see the Monarch butterfly on this list, Dr. Scott Stewart, director of the West Tennessee Ag Research and Education Center, says there is some debate.
“It’s still kind of something that’s debated. But one thing I think’s pretty well been shown in the past couple of decades is that overwintering populations where they spend their winters have declined,” Stewart said. “The controversy is that some new data shows that they’re rebounding very well during the summer months. And so we’re not really seeing overall a big decline in monarch butterflies during the summer months, but they’re not as many of them making it back to their overwintering habitat.”
McCarter wants people to know that the endangered designation from the IUCN is different than a designation through the Endangered Species Act.
“It is different than if our Fish and Wildlife Service here in the United States declared them as endangered. So we are really continuing to amp up our work on the type of things that help monarch butterflies,” she said.
Scientists and conservationists do agree that there are many challenges faced by this species.
“We just got to be honest that, you know, we have more and more people live on this planet, and there are more buildings and more agriculture and more vehicles, but that’s going to challenge some of our insects and other animals a little bit more. And we have to be very aware of that,” Stewart said.
Both McCarter and Stewart recommend adding milkweed to your garden to attract more Monarch butterflies.
“It’s called ‘common butterfly milkweed.’ You can get it in seed catalogs, and a lot of nurseries carry it. And you can plant the seeds, or, what’s more preferred, is to actually get the seedlings already started and planting those in your yard. They just need a real good sunny spot, and nothing else is going to bother them. The deer won’t eat them because the leaves have a toxin, and it’s really a milky substance we break the lake you can see it, so things don’t want to eat it, but the caterpillars for monarch butterflies do,” McCarter said.
However, if you were hoping to hand rear Monarch butterflies on your own, it’s something Stewart strongly discourages.
“One thing that’s generally discouraged, and it does happen, is people actually go out and collect the larvae and rear them and then release them so they’re doing this en masse,” he said. “That’s pretty debatable whether that’s good for them or not, because a lot of times in those environments, you’re essentially releasing diseased butterflies that probably aren’t going to do very well, and it may disease the wild types.”