In the 1980s and '90s, more than a million made the trip each year, but in recent years the numbers had dropped by 99%.
To escape the harsh winters, every year monarch butterflies from all over the western U.S. migrate to coastal California. In the 1980s and '90s, more than a million made the trip each year, according to NPR.
But in recent years, the numbers have dropped by 99%. In fact, CBS News reports that less than 2,000 butterflies were counted last year, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. "The last few years we've had less than 30,000 butterflies," biologist Emma Pelton said. "Last year, we actually dropped below 2,000 butterflies. So really an order of magnitude change in a short time period."
Pelton, who works with the Xerces Society, says pesticides and habitat loss play a role in that decline. Last year, less than 300 western monarchs were counted in Pacific Grove, Pismo Beach, and Big Sur. This year, 10,000 have been counted at each site, the society says. Biologists and volunteers across California have already counted more than 100,000 monarchs altogether.
Migration of Monarch butterflies.. pic.twitter.com/zinl6kcfIi— Buitengebieden (@buitengebieden_) November 30, 2021
"If we were to count 50,000 butterflies this year, that would be about 25% of the count five years ago," Xerces biologists write. "In other words, if this count came in a few years ago, we would be quite concerned with how low these early numbers are."
Richard Rachman, who is the coordinator for the Xerces Society's annual Thanksgiving monarch count in Los Angeles County, has been overwhelmed by the numbers. "It's kind of magical to just be in this closed-in woodland, and then all of a sudden, poof! You're just like a Disneyland fairy princess surrounded by butterflies," he said.
Connie Day, a volunteer that works with Rachman, met him at Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica to conduct an early morning count last week. The duo set out to count the butterflies while it was still dark, as the butterflies would be quiet and not fluttering.
"It's really hard to count them when they're moving," Day said. "You know, when you first see them, they look like the trees are dripping. And when they begin to flutter, we have people come and see them for the first time, and they gasp. I mean, I gasp, and I've been doing it for a long time."
Last year, the number of monarch butterflies that migrated to coastal California dropped below 2,000, biologist Emma Pelton said.— NPR (@NPR) November 26, 2021
This year, more than 100,000 monarchs have been counted so far. https://t.co/yLgP5Tw72V
This year's annual Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count is still going on, and between November 13 and December 5, volunteers, Xerces Society, and Mia Monroe, a count founder, and longtime volunteer coordinator, will help with the monarch count. According to the society, more than 100 community scientists and professional biologists are involved in the count.
There will also be a New Year's Count, which runs from Saturday, December 25 to Sunday, January 9 – but Western Monarch Count says counts can be conducted anytime during the overwintering season.
Meanwhile, Pelton says it's too early to know what is causing this resurgence. "Nature has given us a second chance ... But I do think we're in really dangerous territory," Pelton said. "Nature has given us a second chance ... But I do think we're in really dangerous territory," she said. I think this is really good reason to take heart that there might still be time to make a difference."
Monarch Butterflies on 85mm || taken by yours truly pic.twitter.com/SlT3ihmisy— 🔱 Empress Atlantis 🔱 they/them (@empressatlantis) November 27, 2021
If you are in the western U.S., you can help by planting native milkweed and flowers in your yard, said Pelton, adding that a small act that could give a big boost to the monarchs.
Cover Image Source (Representative): Getty Images | Diana Cooper