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Member Noah Raven's Empathy for Monarch Butterflies is Contagious

By Melissa Manuel on 7. December 2022
Melissa Manuel

Noah Raven of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is a young Xerces member doing incredible work to engage other young people to help protect monarch butterflies. Noah, age 12, is the founder of Monarch Defenders, a youth-led non-profit with the mission “to save the monarchs from extinction, one garden at a time.”


Noah surrounded by monarchs in flight
Noah Raven was first inspired to help monarchs when he visited an overwintering site in Mexico, where many migratory butterflies were spending winter. (Photo provided by Noah and family.)


Noah was first inspired to action when his family went to see the overwintering site of the monarch butterflies in Mexico at the Piedra Herrada reserve. Noah said, “I learned all about them and the more I learned, the more amazed I got. I also learned how much their populations have crashed.” Scientists have recently classified migratory monarchs as endangered under the IUCN Red List. Eastern populations have plummeted by more than 80% and some western populations have declined by more than 99%. 

Noah was very troubled to learn how endangered monarchs are.  “The night in the hotel after seeing their wintering site, I got very anxious about their possible extinction,” he said. “I did not want to let these magical butterflies and the ecosystems they are part of vanish forever.” 


Monarch butterfly on milkweed blooms
Monarch butterflies benefit from the milkweed and nectar plants that Noah advocates for. (Photo provided by Noah and family.)


Noah’s family brainstormed together and decided to launch Monarch Defenders with the key understanding that one cause of the drastic decline in their population is loss of habitat, along with climate change and pesticide use. Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed and a few closely related plants, which are the sole food source of monarch caterpillars. Adult butterflies need nectar-producing plants.

Noah said, “We realized that creating habitat is something we could do. But to be impactful, lots of people, all across their migratory range need to do the same thing. I decided I wanted to encourage youth and families to plant monarch habitats.” Youth and families from anywhere in North America can become Monarch Defenders by planting a habitat of milkweed and pollinator plants in their yards. Once you plant the habitat, Monarch Defenders will upload the garden sites onto an interactive map on their website. 


Noah tending to milkweed in the yard
Noah's yard provides milkweed to monarchs and other pollinators. (Photo provided by Noah and family.)


In addition to starting the website, Noah’s family also planted habitat in their home garden. “In just the first season we saw the difference!” said Noah. “Our garden is not huge, but we have seen female monarchs lay eggs on the milkweed and watched them hatch into caterpillars. We’ve had dozens of caterpillars. I hope others will join me.”

What began as one young person’s dream has grown to involve their whole family and dozens of youth and their families across the country. If you’d like to connect with Noah and the Monarch Defenders, you can visit their website or find them on Instagram.


Noah and a family member planting a seedling
Noah has inspired his family to get involved with monarchs. (Photo provided by Noah and family.)


Melissa joined Xerces in 2022 as the Donor Engagement Specialist, working with the Membership team. She is a "retired" young farmer with over a decade of expertise in urban farming, agroforestry, garden design and education. Before joining Xerces, she worked as a horticulturist at Leach Botanical Garden. Melissa holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Portland State University and has worked with a number of environmental non-profit groups throughout her career.

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