Monarch Butterfly
A monarch butterfly perches on milkweed in a field at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland, Friday, May 31, 2019. Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press


WBEZ: Summary: Garden for good. Don’t write off the monarch butterfly just yet. Illinois’s state insect is part of the eastern population of the species, whose numbers have declined as much as 85% since the 1990s. The numbers are bad enough that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service nearly classified Danaus plexippus (the butterfly’s scientific name, Greek for “sleepy transformation”) as an endangered species last year – but the agency was too busy adding other species to the list to include the monarch. Conservationists offer a variety of explanations for the population collapse, citing the usual culprits of climate change, pesticides and habitat loss. If that all sounds hopeless and overwhelming, keep in mind that you can do something about that last part: habitat. Planting milkweed is the most impactful thing you can do to support future generations of butterfly larvae. Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed, preferring swamp, butterfly and common varieties of the native perennial. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago will mail you a free packet of milkweed seeds, or you can look up a native plant sale in the springtime or purchase some starts from your neighborhood garden shop. (Farmers Market Garden Center on Elston can hook you up.) You can also register as a community scientist with the Field Museum and volunteer to monitor milkweed gardens in the Chicago area. There’s still hope that Midwesterners can awaken eastern monarchs from their sleepy transformation and avoid extinction. In November, volunteers in California counted 100,000 western monarchs during their annual migrations – a 50-fold increase from 2020. 

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