EAST TEXAS (KLTV) - The Texas state insect is in danger of becoming extinct. The monarch butterfly population has dropped by more than 90 percent in the last two decades, so the federal government is stepping in.
“The numbers have dwindled quite a bit because of deforestation and climate change,” says Srini Kambhampati, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of biology at the University of Texas at Tyler.
But it's their picky behavior that's contributing greatly to the orange-winged insect's demise.
“The caterpillars feed only on milkweeds that are native to this area, but milkweeds are also considered weeds by farmers, so they tend to spray herbicides which of course kills the milkweeds, and the monarch butterflies have no place to lay their eggs,” says Kambhampati.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to revitalize their population by pledging $3.2 million. Under their new plan, the main goal is to plant more milkweed in Texas.
“That's why it's of local concern because as they're migrating back in the spring, they go through Texas and they need the milkweeds to lay their eggs,” says Kambhampati.
Horticulture expert Mary Wilhite says because milkweed is native to East Texas, planting some is an easy way to help save the monarchs.
“They're fairly easy to grow, although you have to wait until it warms up a little… It's really important to have a lot of it around because that's the next generation. We're feeding the next generation so they can grow up and be butterflies,” she says.