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After 10 long days in a chrysalis, monarch butterflies break free, ready to spread their wings and take their first triumphant flight. But the world they fly into is increasingly toxic and unwelcoming.

Lately, fewer and fewer monarch caterpillars are making it to their first flight. I want you to meet the monarchs we're trying to save:

Western monarchs

Monarchs are the only butterflies known to make a two-way migration.1 When days start to get colder and shorter, the ever-perceptive monarchs know it's time to pack up and head south.

Western monarchs, unlike their eastern siblings, are the sprinters of the family. Flying faster for shorter distances, these monarchs leave their inland homes to spend their winters in the moderate Mexican and Californian climates.2

Along the way, these butterflies flutter from flower to flower, collecting nectar and pollinating our plants. And they even run into some familiar faces: eastern monarchs.

Eastern monarchs

When winter approaches, eastern monarch butterflies hit the road, too. But these butterflies travel a little differently than their sprinter siblings.

Eastern monarchs are marathoners. Flying slower, for longer distances, these 3-inch butterflies make the 3,000-mile migration from as far as Maine all the way to Mexico -- and back again.3

And when they meet up with some western monarchs on their way to their winter homes, they put their differences aside and form "roosts." These roosts, or clusters of monarchs, stick together throughout the winter. Together, the butterflies stay close to each other to retain warmth, resting on hillsides and treetops.

Once winter ends, the fun is over. The monarch siblings head back to their separate summer homes and breeding grounds where they can try to bring a new generation of monarchs into the world.4

Despite their differences, these butterflies have a lot in common. They both rely on the milkweed plant for food as caterpillars. Their bright orange wings are their natural defense mechanism, serving as a warning to would-be predators that they're poisonous. But even with their defenses, both are fluttering toward extinction.

Nearly 9 out 10 monarchs have died

In the last few decades, monarch populations have seen devastating losses: Western monarch populations dropped by 99%.5 In 1997, we had 1.2 million. In 2019, we had 30,000. Today, there are just 1,914 western monarchs left.6

Their siblings have suffered similar losses: The eastern monarch population has decreased by 80%.7 Together, nearly 9 out of every 10 monarchs have disappeared.

Milkweed, monarchs' main food source, has vanished before their eyes: At least 1.3 billion milkweed stems have disappeared, leaving monarch caterpillars weak and hungry.8

Monarchs don't stand a chance if pesticides continue to kill off milkweed. But thankfully, monarchs' wings aren't their only defense mechanism.

Monarchs have you, Friend. With your support, we're working to save monarchs by giving them Endangered Species Act protections and stopping the pesticide use that leaves monarchs without food. Take part in our efforts with a donation today.

Thank you,

Wendy Wendlandt

1. "Monarch Butterfly Migration and Overwintering," U.S. Forest Service, last accessed September 3, 2021.
2. Lisa M. Krieger, "New insights into monarch butterflies' mysterious migrations," The Mercury News, January 17, 2020.
3. Emory Health Sciences, "Butterfly genomics: Monarchs migrate and fly differently, but meet up and mate," Science Daily, July 29, 2020.
4. "Monarch butterfly," National Geographic, last accessed September 3, 2021.
5. John Flesher, "Feds to delay seeking legal protection for monarch butterfly," AP News, December 15, 2020.
6. Louis Sahagún, "California builds a 'Noah's Ark' to protect wildlife from extinction by fire and heat," Los Angeles Times, August 18, 2021.
7. John Flesher, "Feds to delay seeking legal protection for monarch butterfly," AP News, December 15, 2020.
8. Wayne E. Thogmartin et al., "Restoring monarch butterfly habitat in the Midwestern US: 'all hands on deck'," IOP Science, June 29, 2017.

Your donation will be used to support all of our campaigns to protect the environment, from saving the bees and protecting public lands, to standing up for clean water and fighting climate change. None of our work would be possible without supporters like you.

Environment America, Inc.
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