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How you can help monarch butterflies

Published: Thursday, April 24, 2014 5:03 p.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 1)

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.

The Illinois Department of National Resources (INDR) 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 IDNR plays a vital role in its conservation in Illinois.

“Forty years ago, Illinois school children 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 milkweed 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.

Miller suggests the following ideas to help conserve habitat for monarchs.

Include milkweed and native flowering plants in landscaping. Don’t mow or spray herbicide 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.

Many communities hold native plant sales during the spring. Additionally, the IDNR annually offers a Schoolyard Habitat Grant Program. 

Visit the grants page to see if a specific organization qualifies: http://dnr.state.il.us/education/CLASSRM/grants.htm.

Become more educated about monarch conservation.

The IDNR offers a variety of resources for schools and educators on its website.

Many publications are available in PDF format at www.dnr.illinois.gov/publications. Titles are listed for each subject.

Miller said IDNR is doing its part to keep the environment healthy for all native species.

Illinois state parks, nature preserves, state forests and other properties play a significant role in the survival of countless species of insects, birds, plants, fish and animals, including the Monarch butterfly.

Illinois has 324 state-owned and leased parks, fish and wildlife areas, state forests, state trails, natural areas, and recreational sites, with 45 million visits annually.

The highest quality natural communities in Illinois have been identified through the Illinois Natural Areas Inventory.

These 28,000 acres occupy 0.077 percent of the Illinois landscape but represent the best opportunity to preserve and protect a large percentage of the terrestrial biodiversity of the state.

Many of these identified sites owned by the IDNR, other public entities and private individuals have been formally protected under the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission.

IDNR staff conducts stewardship projects throughout the year.

These include invasive species control to controlled burns and hydrological restoration.

The projects help to make the habitats more sustainable and viable, including for milkweeds and monarchs.

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