The iconic black and orange Monarch butterfly has long captured our imagination. Their unique annual migratory journey from Mexico across the Midwest to Canada and back and their noble metamorphosis from caterpillar to beautiful butterfly, inspire us with Mother Nature’s amazing powers. In addition to being beautiful creatures and the official state insect of Illinois, Monarchs are important pollinators that help to grow the food that we eat every day. Eastern Monarch butterflies cross all areas of Illinois during their 3,000 mile annual migration.
The Problem: Loss of Monarch & Pollinator Habitat
Pollinators like the Monarch butterfly face multiple threats, including habitat destruction, disease, parasites, and insecticides. By understanding these threats and seeking to minimize them, we can better protect the health of pollinators and ourselves. The future of our food supply is not the only thing at risk here. Insects also pollinate plants that are not crops, and make the world as we know it possible.
Alarmingly, Eastern Monarch butterfly populations have plummeted by almost 90% due to the loss of habitat from urban sprawl and intensive agriculture. Monarchs cannot survive without milkweed; they lay their eggs on milkweed and the monarch caterpillar only eats milkweed plants. Unfortunately, we have lost much of the milkweed and native flowering plants that Monarchs and other pollinators need to survive.
The Solution: Restoring Habitat
Prairie Rivers Network is partnering with the National Wildlife Federation and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to promote the planting of milkweed and other pollinator plants throughout Illinois. The North American Monarch Conservation Plan has a goal for 10 million acres of monarch habitat to be created or restored in the United States, and Illinois will be an important contributor.
The most important message we can convey to you is that pollinators need safe habitats and food to be healthy. In Illinois, pollinators are faced with a largely unfriendly, unpalatable environment dominated by corn, soybeans, turfgrass, and asphalt. Pollinators need flowering forbs, shrubs, and trees. Different pollinators have different needs, and just like people, pollinators benefit from a diverse diet. Therefore, plant diversity is key to creating good pollinator habitat.
Any landowner can help pollinators by adding flowering plants to their properties. Even a small flower bed can be a significant contribution. The more people who do something, the greater our collective impact! For ideas about what to plant, visit Extension’s website on pollinator pockets. Rain gardens can also be designed to attract pollinators; visit our rain garden page for more information!