I confess I have come to dislike the Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, but it has nothing to do with the lovely insect itself. My objection is to the public obsession with the species to the exclusion of so many other butterfly species, let alone moths and other insects. It is also a manufactured obsession created by the many conservation groups that have capitalized on the Monarch’s existing popularity and used it to generate revenue for their organizations.
Let us explore some of the myths that have been purported as a result of the propaganda produced by the likes of Monarch Watch and the Xerces Society, whether accidental or intentional.
Still, conservation organizations may be guilty of creating a perpetual crisis that does not exist in reality. Were Monarch numbers declared stable, there would be no perceived endangered status, and monetary donations would dry up. This “sky is falling” phenomenon is probably true of many environmental organizations, and one should be wary when deciding where to spend one’s disposable income.
All of this is not to say that the Xerces Society, Monarch Watch, and other non-profits are not doing valuable work, or are merely exploiting human sentiments for “poor butterflies.” Indeed, Xerces has branched out over recent years to address insect conservation beyond butterflies, such as protecting aquatic insects and native pollinators. Also, exaggerating an organism’s endangered status can be a way to draw attention to an otherwise overlooked or understated issue.
The biggest problem I personally face in promoting insect conservation is in getting the public to think “outside the chrysalis” if you will, and recognize that arthropods other than butterflies are valuable. It is incredibly important to change public attitudes toward wasps, spiders, and flies, for example.
We are making collective headway in creating popular movements that embrace dragonflies, damselflies, moths, and (to a lesser degree) tiger beetles, that do not involve collecting specimens. So, I remain cautiously optimistic that the trend will continue. Just don’t ask me about Monarchs.