More Butterflies Are Dying Everyday. This Is Why.

Abi Muñoz
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Do you remember seeing more butterflies around when you were a kid? You may be surprised to learn that the monarch butterfly population has declined by 90 percent in the past two decades. ???

This insect has great biological and cultural significance. It has a host of symbolic meanings, representing  “nature; environmental health; safe migration across national borders; spiritual metamorphosis and renewal; and, finally, the souls returning to Michoacán on the Day of the Dead.”


New border infrastructure along the U.S.-Mexico border threatens wildlife, such as the monarch butterfly, by encroaching upon sanctuaries like the National Butterfly Center.

The monarch butterfly, a symbol of immigrant freedom and migration in the United States, makes a 3,000 mile journey from Canada to Mexico that can take about two months to complete. The border wall is making this natural migration harder by destroying their habitat and ecosystem.

When we think of the border, we often only think of the wall. But the wall is accompanied by a wide variety of infrastructure like roads, surveillance towers, lights, radar systems, fences, barbed wire, etc.

650 miles of walls and barriers have already been constructed along the the U.S.-Mexico border. Conservation organizations like National Geographic and the Sierra Club Borderlands Campaign have documented the negative environmental effects of these barriers. For example, the lights used to improve visibility at the border reportedly zap butterflies and other pollinators. Additionally, some butterflies and birds may not be able to fly high enough to cross the border, which disrupts their migratory patterns.

The fate of the National Butterfly Center, a 100 acre sanctuary for the monarch butterfly and other threatened species in South Texas, is in jeopardy.

According to the Texas Observer in April 2017, Marianna Treviño-Wright, Director of the National Butterfly Center, discovered the destruction of trees and vegetation in an attempt to create a “border enforcement zone” in the sanctuary. The desecrators had entered the area unannounced and later told Treviño-Wright that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) would contact her shortly. At this time, the future of this and other wildlife sanctuaries along the U.S-Mexico border remains unclear.


By destroying this sanctuary with border infrastructure, monarch butterflies will not be able to lay their eggs and complete their multigenerational journey.

Monarchs exclusively lay their eggs on milkweed, which is later eaten by their caterpillars. Without milkweed, the monarch butterfly cannot reproduce and its offspring cannot survive, let alone complete their migration. The National Butterfly Center is critical to the successful migration of the monarch butterfly because it has a high concentration of milkweed plants.


The environmental threat to the monarch butterfly has real world implications for you and me.

Butterflies are pollinators and about 75% of the food crops worldwide require pollination. Threats to butterflies and other pollinators are also threats to our food supply. Unfortunately, “today there are 25 million acres of protected US public lands within 100 miles of the [border] line.”  However, because they are federal lands, the government can choose to build upon the borderlands without any environmental review in the name of national security.

The monarch butterfly is also a powerful symbol of migration.

It’s imagery has been adopted by organizations like Mariposas Sin Fronteras (Butterflies Without Frontiers) who fight for the rights of LGBTQ people held in prison and immigration detention centers. The threat to monarch butterflies not only causes environmental outrage but is also a direct attack on immigrant and border communities.


You can positively contribute to the protection of wildlife by adding something to your Amazon wishlist for the National Butterfly Center or learn more about protecting the borderlands with the Sierra Club.

Why aren’t more conservation groups openly voicing their opposition to the expansion of the border?

Do you know of any other organizations, activists or communities that are fighting to protect the environment along the U.S.-Mexico border?

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