Where Have the Monarch Butterflies Gone

Monarch in alfafa field

Many have been reading in local newspapers reports on the sightings of monarch butterflies as they fly south by the millions to their overwintering grounds in Mexico. What I’m not seeing, however, is mention of the sad reality of the crisis monarchs are facing.

The trend of decreasing numbers of monarchs has been going on for decades. The reasons for this are largely the disappearing milkweed across the great American prairies due to loss of open prairies, the heavy use of herbicides, and genetically altered crops. “We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of acres of land that are virtually sterilized except for human food crops,” said Lincoln Brower, professor of biology at Sweet Brier College who has been studying monarchs for decades.

To compound this problem, in 2009 fierce storms ravaged the sanctuaries and, coupled with the problem of illegal logging, devastated the monarch population from 50-70 %. Now the smallest population on record is on the wing, flying south to the sanctuaries--and they must pass through Texas.

Unfortunately severe drought and wildfires there have torched much of the vegetation and flowers. According to Chip Taylor, Univ. of Kansas and director of Monarch Watch, “They’re going to be encountering a thousand miles of hell as they go through a nearly waterless, flowerless, nectarless landscape.”

Whether the butterflies will arrive in the sanctuaries with enough weight to survive the winter is a serious concern.

What can we do to help save the monarch butterfly? Plant nectar flowers and do not spray them with insecticide. Plant milkweed (Asclepius) in the early spring. Milkweed is the monarch’s host plant, the only plant on which a monarch lays her eggs and the sole food of the caterpillar. By dedicating a small sunny area in our yards and parks for butterfly-friendly plants and flowers we can support the monarch during it migrations.

Milkweed is available at many local nurseries. This past year I’ve given away 10,000 free milkweed seeds. I’ll offer them again for spring planting. If anyone wants a free packet of milkweed seeds, contact me on my website or Facebook. Together, we can help the marvelous phenomenon of the monarch migration continue for future generations.


  1. I'm not on Facebook, but I'd love some milkweed seeds. I've got a few monarchs visiting my zinnias here in north corner of Newberry County, SC. Essuzy on Twitter

  2. A very few monarchs have passed through Franklin, TN.

  3. Just read your letter to the editor in the paper this morning. What a great cause - I planted milkweed this year, and got such a kick out of watching the monarch caterpillars feasting on the leaves and growing. Hopefully a few made it to the chrysalis stage - I would love to plant a lot more milkweed this coming spring, so would appreciate a packet of milkweed seeds if you are offering them again - I have a big sunny yard to grow them in.

  4. Thank you Susan, Kay and JimIslandGirl for your comments. I'd be happy to send you milkweed seed packets. Email my assistant Angela at assistant@maryalicemonroe.com to get on the list. We'll make sure to send your packet of seeds in time for the early spring planting season.

  5. I just came across this site accidentally, while trying to identify some beautiful butterflies I spotted in the aptly named "butterfly bush" in my yard. I'm pretty sure these are monarchs. Would they be heading south to Mexico already? I would love to plant a milkweed seed in the spring, if you still have some. I live in the upstate of South Carolina, in Walhalla. Thanks.


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All the best,
Mary Alice