SPRINGFIELD, IL – 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.
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 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.
Here’s how you can help:
Include milkweed and native flowering plants in your 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 our grants page to see if your 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 that can be found here: http://dnr.state.il.us/education/insecttrunk.htm
The following publications from the IDNR Office of Education and Outreach are available in PDF format:
Wings, Stings and Leggy Things - http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/publications/Documents/00000563.pdf
Spanish-language version of Wings, Stings and Leggy Things - http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/publications/Documents/00000662.pdf
Illinois’ State Symbols - http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/publications/Documents/00000547.pdf
Spanish-language version of Illinois’ State Symbols - http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/publications/Documents/00000561.pdf
Those interested in establishing butterfly gardens around homes, schools and businesses should download our Butterfly Gardens brochure: http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/publications/Documents/00000130.pdf
Learn about the mission of the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission and find a directory of sites here: http://dnr.state.il.us/INPC/index.htm
Find an Illinois State Park near you at: http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/parks/
What we’re doing:
As the largest landowner in Illinois, we are doing our 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 state 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% 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 – from invasive species control to controlled burns and hydrological restoration – all of which go to make these habitats more sustainable and viable, including for milkweeds and monarchs.