This gorgeous winged insect could soon become extinct without conservation efforts.

Watching a monarch butterfly, with its striking orange-and-black wings, fluttering overhead, then landing gracefully on a flower is nothing short of a pure delight. But that simple pleasure may not be around forever: According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the monarch's population has dwindled in the past 20 years to dangerously low levels. The reason: Milkweed—the plant that the butterfly exclusively feeds on—is vanishing. Scientists point to pesticides and climate change as just two of the culprits.

Known for its annual migration from the northern United States and Canada in the fall to the warmer temperatures of Mexico and California, the monarch butterfly searches during its journey for milkweed leaves—not only for nutrition but also as a place to lay its eggs. Once the eggs hatch, caterpillars are born, feed on their favorite plant and, four weeks and several stages later, change into butterflies. So, if there are no milkweed plants, there will be no more monarch butterflies. Rather than accept this dismal fate, activists are trying to protect, conserve, and increase habitats for the butterfly. If you'd like to be part of the rescue effort, here are a few things you can do to help.

Plant milkweed in your garden.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which calculates a 90 percent loss of monarchs in the 20-year time period, suggests using your backyard to grow milkweed native to your area. Monarch Watch, a nonprofit conservation and research program, encourages volunteers to create way-stations, which are managed gardens that provide food and habitat for the butterflies. You can make way-stations in home gardens, at schools, along roadsides, and on other unused plots of land. The program offers volunteers a seed kit to get things started. There are also instructions on growing milkweed independent of the program.

Avoid spraying your own plants with pesticides.

It goes without saying that pesticides are not good for your plants, but glyphosate, a widely used pesticide that controls weeds, kills milkweed, which is this butterfly's breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Planting an organic garden will minimize your impact on the monarch's food source. 

Report caterpillar sightings.

Want to play scientist? Download the free citizen science app from Monarch Joint Venture. The app, available for Apple devices, outlines many ways to help, such as tracking monarch eggs and larvae across North America during the breeding season. This, in turn, helps scientists better understand how monarchs interact with their environment, document conservation efforts, and track the population and its habitat as they change over time.

Educate others in your local community.

Familiarize yourself with the life and plight of the monarch butterfly so you can share conservation tips with friends and family—even young children can be included.

Make a monetary contribution.

If you can't donate time but you'd still like to help, consider a monetary donation. Chandler Clay, a senior manager of the EDF's ecosystems program, says in a video posted on Twitter that, in partnership with farmers and ranchers from Missouri, Texas, and California, the EDF is ramping up efforts to help the monarch butterfly, which she calls "an American icon." Monarch Watch, which also accepts contributions, says that a donation of $35 will restore an acre of land and feed up to 70 butterflies.


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