Over the past 20 years, about 98 percent of the western monarch butterflies have disappeared. 98 percent! And the eastern monarchs aren’t faring much better. So I was stunned to read today that federal officials won’t start talking about adding them to the endangered species list until 2024.
One of my favorite memories of kindergarten involved watching a pair of monarch butterflies develop. We watched the caterpillars fatten up and disappear into cocoons. When they emerged as butterflies, we went out to the playground and set them free.
Years later, after I became a nature photographer, a priority for me was to visit the butterflies in their wintering grounds. Their flight muscles don’t work all that well in temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit, so in the winter, they gather in huge clusters to stay warm.
This image was from the California coast in 2004. There were so many the evergreen trees looked like they had leaves. Last year, no monarchs returned to this section of forest.
I’m sad that scenes like this are already gone. I’m even more sad that more people don’t care.