Monarch photo by Karl Schilling.

An international organization is now classifying the migratory North American monarch butterfly as endangered, and efforts underway in Iowa will aid the helpful insect if more people get on board.

Laura Iles, director of the Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic at Iowa State University, says the monarchs’ status change should bring more awareness.

“It’s important to always draw attention to insects and other animals and the impacts that habitat loss and things like that can have,” Iles says. “It doesn’t legally change their status like the Endangered Species Act does, but it does remind people that it’s important to protect these really cool insects.”

Last week, the International Union for Conservation of Nature issued a report showing monarch populations have fallen up to 72% and are at risk of extinction. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not listed the monarch as an endangered or threatened species in the U.S. but will revisit that status in 2024.

Iowans are aware of the monarchs’ plight and many are taking action, she says, by keeping pollinators in mind when planting their gardens and plotting out landscapes. Iles says, “The key with a garden that protects and invites pollinators in and all those beautiful butterflies is having lots of flowers, which most of us who garden like pretty flowers anyway, so it’s kind of a win-win.”

She says growing plants for insects is an amazing way to enjoy nature in your own backyard. “Have those pollinating plants available all summer long, especially early and then later into the fall if you can,” Iles says. “Having those blooming plants available and then reducing any insecticide use in your yard because those insecticides can’t pick and choose between just the pest insects, so you have to accept sometimes a little bit more pest damage when you’re gardening for pollinators.”

Besides planting plenty of flowers, Iles suggests Iowans also plant milkweed, as it’s the only plant on which monarchs will lay eggs. “We’ve got several different species of milkweed in Iowa,” Iles says. “The common milkweed is probably the one that people are most familiar with and very often, it just comes up as a weed in the garden. I just leave it. One less weed to pull and I’ve got some habitat there for monarchs.”

In addition to butterflies, common insect pollinators in Iowa include honey bees, bumble bees, solitary bees, beetles, flies, ants and wasps. Bats, birds and other animals that visit plants can also be pollinators.

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