Monarch Butterfly Conservation in Utah
The monarch butterfly, one of the most beloved butterflies of all time, is in peril.
Over the past 20-30 years, monarch numbers west of the Rocky Mountains have dropped nearly 95%; and the population east of the Rockies isn't far behind. Many factors are contributing to this phenomenon: loss of habitat, host plant (milkweed) and nectar plants are one factor. Increased use of herbicides and pesticides are another. Climate change, drought, threats to overwintering population - they all play a part.
The US Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) has the monarch butterfly on their listing work plan, in other words, in their queue for possible protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Western Alliance of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) is working together to create a Conservation Strategy for the western population of the monarch butterfly in the hopes of curbing and/or reversing this decline. Additional information on the distribution and abundance of monarch (particularly breeding monarchs), as well as identifying and reporting of native milkweed species, is desperately needed for the State of Utah.
We need your help.
Citizen scientists can play a key role in gathering more information on both the abundance and distribution of these beautiful butterflies, and their host plant, milkweed.
What's involved in this citizen science project? We want to map and record milkweed and monarch sightings throughout the state of Utah. As a citizen scientist for this effort, you have two options: 1) capture and report **any** monarch and milkweed sightings anytime, anywhere in Utah, or 2) Take part in a Landscape Scale effort to assist in validating a western US monarch habitat model. This option requests you select pre-determined sites to verify whether there is milkweed present (or not). Either option will require your photographs taken while in any of the apps mentioned on this site.
Quick Identification Tips for Monarch Butterflies
Not a monarch butterfly (Swallowtail butterfly)
Not a monarch butterfly (West coast lady Butterfly)
Monarch eggs are usually found on the underside of a milkweed leaf and are a creamy yellowish in color. They are cone shaped with vertical ridges. In contrast, milkweed leaves "bleed" many little stark white latex pearls that can fool you into thinking they are eggs (as in the photo on the right).
For more help identifying monarchs throughout their lifecycle, and a great video from National Geographic, click here.
Monarch butterfly eggs
Not a monarch butterfly eggs (latex pearl on milkweed leaf)
Monarch egg tipped on side
Not monarch eggs (either latex pearls or other insect eggs) on leaves and stem
Signs of tiny monarch caterpillars eating the surface level of the leaf are usually accompanied by dark frass (poop). Other damage to a leaf isn't as defined, and lacks frass. The larger the monarch caterpillar, the larger the frass, and the holes will go all the way through the leaves, even eating the seed pods if needed.
For more help identifying monarch activity, click here.
Newly hatched monarch caterpillar with frass
Not monarch caterpillar eating or frass (Other leaf damage, cause unknown)
Many young monarch caterpillars and leaf after eating
Not caused by monarch caterpillars (hail storm damage)
Monarch caterpillars are black, yellow and white (except for right after they hatch). The closest look-a-like is the Queen butterfly caterpillar, which is rarely seen in Utah.
For more help identifying monarch caterpillars, click here.
5th instar monarch caterpillar
Not a monarch caterpillar (Queen butterfly caterpillar - rarely found in UT)
Monarch caterpillars over two-week span
Not a monarch caterpillars (painted lady)
Utah's most prolific milkweed is Asclepias speciosa, or "showy milkweed" can sometimes be confused with dogbane, which grows in many of our canyons and has much more delicate flowers.
For more help with identifying native milkweed in Utah, click here.
Asclepias speciosa in bloom in SLC
Dogbane in bloom in Utah
Native "Antelope horn" milkweed blossom - A. asperula
Milkweed blossom: Native Butterfly Weed (A. tuberosa)