SPRINGFIELD – One of Illinois’ state symbols has been in the news both nationally and internationally for a troubling fact. Scientists have documented an unprecedented drop in numbers of the monarch butterfly on its wintering grounds in Mexico since the mid-1990s, and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is asking for the public’s help in growing monarch populations.
The monarch is dependent on the milkweed family –While the story of the monarch’s decline and hopeful comeback stretches well beyond the borders of Illinois, The Illinois Department of Natural Resources plays a vital role in its conservation in Illinois.
“Forty years ago, Illinois schoolchildren convinced the Illinois General Assembly to adopt the monarch butterfly as Illinois’ state insect,” said IDNR director Marc Miller. “Help us honor that legacy by working with us to conserve habitat for the monarch, and make our state parks and backyards safe harbors for these amazing, long-distance travelers.”
The fate of the monarch in Illinois is tied to the fate of the plant host milkweed, the host plants used by its familiar striped caterpillars. In Illinois, there are 19 species of milkweeds that mostly grow in prairies, though some can be found in woodlands, untilled fields, roadsides and ditches.
Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed plants. In a few days, the egg hatches into a larvae or caterpillar. The caterpillar feeds for about two weeks until it is ready to form its chrysalis. In 10 days to two weeks, the adult butterfly emerges. Monarch butterflies are migratory, and it takes four generations to complete the journey from the central United States to wintering grounds in Mexico and back again.
How can you help? Include milkweed and native flowering plants in your landscaping. Don’t mow or sprayherbicide on milkweed patches.Reduce mowing where possible. Milkweeds grow readily along roadsides, field edges, fallow fields and other untended places. Cutting back on mowing saves fuel and time, and provides habitat for many other species of grassland birds, mammals and insects.