Monarchs Making a Comeback

The Monarch Butterfly almost disappeared, but they’ve come roaring back. And you can see them at Zoo Boise this summer.

Monarch+Butterfly+on+flower+in+Pismo+Beach+Monarch+Butterfly+Grove+on+the+Central+Coast+of+California.

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Monarch Butterfly on flower in Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove on the Central Coast of California.

Olivia Easterday, Features Writer

Butterflies are one of the most majestic creatures in the world, crafted with the most miniscule detail, from their flowing wings to their tiny wiggling antennae, drifting along the driest deserts and the leakiest wetlands, making them nearly inaccessible to us. But Zoo Boise has changed that for people in the Treasure Valley.

During a small portion of the summer, Zoo Boise exhibits over 20 different types of butterflies out of the 24,000 total species. And visitors can interact with them from the first of June through Labor Day at its Butterflies in Bloom exhibit.

Butterflies in Bloom holds the most common butterflies, such as the black and orange Monarch, the fourth most popular butterfly in the world. Zoo Boise used to receive hundreds of Costa Rican Monarchs, but no less than two years ago, a question remained if they would be able to get any at all.

A curious development

Monarchs travel the world as birds do, craving the warm weather in Mexico and California in the winter. They often fly as far as 3,000 miles to reach their destination and lay the eggs of the next generation of Monarchs who will make the journey back to the colder climates in the spring. The general estimate of Monarch Butterflies hoarding the sky was about 4.5 million in 1997.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation started counting those 25 years ago, finding that the population was shrinking by about 2% every year, and by 2020, from what was once nearly half a million butterflies became less than 2,000 meaning they lost 99% of their population since 1997. 

Scientists suspect the downfall is the repercussion of the lack of milkweed due to herbicide use and mowing in ditches and agricultural areas. Monarchs only breed where milkweed is growing, laying their eggs on the leaves, and only eat the goopy center of the stems, which coats the insects and makes them poisonous and foul tasting to predators.

“Milkweed is virtually gone,” says Cheryl Schultz, a conservation biology at Washington State University. “The goal is to get enough milkweed into the landscape so that when 

Monarchs are migrating and leave the coast, they can find places to breed.”

Many people and butterfly farmers have set to work planting milkweed rhizomes, hoping to create a renewed habitat for the butterflies. Since the Monarch butterfly population decreased by 99 percent, the estimate is that it will take about ten years to regrow their original amount of 4.5 million. 

“Restoring the habitat takes time,” says Schultz. “But I have an incredible sense of hope that we can do this.”

Making a comeback

In January 2022, the amount jumped from 2,000 to 250,000, thanks to the efforts to refurbish the Monarchs.

“What we can and should be working on is addressing and reversing the widespread habitat loss and pesticide use throughout the Monarchs’ range,” the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation says, according to its website. “There is still hope that we can recover the population if we work quickly, strategically, and together.” 

Zoo Boise now generally receives a variant of Costa Rican Monarch Butterflies.

“We do not provide milkweed as we do not encourage breeding of the species,” says Melissa Wade, assistant and manager at the zoo. “They are given ripe fruit as part of their diet.” 

There are many ways you can help preserve the Monarch population, such as planting native milkweed in gardens and lawns and other rural areas. You can also snap photos of any Monarchs you spot and send the images to the Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper, allowing specialists to track the Monarchs in hopes of continuing to restore one of God’s most beautiful creations. 

Find any Monarch Butterflies lurking in your yard or neighborhood? Send them in to the Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper to help save these creatures.