BROOKE COUNTY, W.Va. (WTRF) — The king of butterflies is on its 11th hour of nearing extinction. And if you have come to love West Virginia’s butterfly, the monarch, you know their migration has long been a thing of wonder and now maybe a thing of the past. 

It’s definitely on a path of demise.

If they endure like one major storm in Mexico again, where there is unseasonal freezing rain, and they die by the millions, then it might be enough to not bring them back.

Heather Tokas, Butterfly expert, Founder of West Virginia Monarch Butterfly Day

In North America, millions of monarch butterflies undertake the longest migration of any insect species known to science. They fly down to Mexico where deforestation is dethroning the regal creature. 

Experts in West Virginia have been preparing for this day since 2018, even forming a ‘Monarch Summit,’ hoping to change the butterfly’s course. 

Alas, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature just added the migrating monarch butterfly, for the first time, to its “red list” of threatened species and categorized it as “endangered” — two steps from extinction. 

In her studies in the Mountain State, Heather Tokas has seen a 90 percent drop in what the population used to be. 

The field in the background here, I have done 35 years of field work in conservation. And I have seen a complete decline, every year. Used to be, I could go out there and see hundreds of monarchs in an afternoon, and now I’ll see five.

Heather Tokas, Butterfly expert, Founder of West Virginia Monarch Butterfly Day

How does the fourth generation, a little egg hatched in September -time and time again- instinctually know to hoof it down to Mexico? That peculiar trait is now something experts wish they could tell the butterfly to stop doing. 

The species as a whole is not declared “endangered” yet by the USDA, which Tokas says is a blessing. That means people are still allowed to collect the caterpillars/chrysalis and bring them inside to grow free from dangers. 

Tokas says only three-percent of the eggs laid will survive in the wild. 

And taking the beautiful bugs under our wing is making a dent! There are two groups of migration: The group that heads South, but the butterflies who head West, to California, are making a comeback. 

“Those overwintering grounds have seen an actual increase of 4.900 percent,” said Tokas.

Tokas says you can help the group of Monarchs in West Virginia by mowing half your garden now and half once July is over, as it’s peak season for laying eggs and chewing on milkweed. 

September 12th is ‘Monarch Butterfly Day’ in West Virginia where Tokas petitioned to make the day for educators to teach about monarchs in the classroom.

On Facebook, Tokas has started a page that might have more information for you on how to help protect monarchs. Find it by searching ‘Butterflies from Heather.’