The Most Famous Butterfly Underlines the Importance of Incentives for Endangered Species

Monarch butterfly enjoying milkweed. Photo courtesy of USFWS Midwest Region.

Today may be Endangered Species Day, but it’s worth taking a moment to consider one species that’s not yet on a formal at-risk list. The monarch butterfly has been spotted across the country in recent weeks on its annual migration north, a round trip that takes four generations to complete. Along the way to Canada, females will lay eggs on milkweed—the single type of plant that supports monarch caterpillars—before their descendants eventually flutter south to forests of central Mexico for winter.

By the time the monarch heads north again next year, the federal government will have decided whether to list it under the Endangered Species Act. Populations of the orange and black butterfly, whose range spans the lower 48, have declined drastically over recent decades, and a listing decision is expected by December.

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