Beautiful Lepidoptera make the annual journey between Canada and Mexico with some long breaks along the way.
There are plenty of documentaries chronicling this epic continental journey. My personal favorite is the 2011 NOVA episode titled The Amazing Flight of Butterflies. It’s not available on YouTube, but you may be able to remove it from your cable service.
Here are some other great resources on this amazing insect.
Here in Illinois we get 4 distinct generations of butterflies in our state each year.
Illinois.edu – The first generation is born when the monarchs who have overwintered return to lay eggs on milkweed in late April or May. Two more generations occur during the summer with an age of 2 to 6 weeks each. The last generation, born around September, migrates to Mexico as the fall weather begins to cool.
The first generation of “winter” kings should appear anytime now in Illinois.
Like other pollinators, and quite mysteriously to scientists, the monarch population has declined over the past decade. And like those other pollinators, losing it would be a disaster for the ecosystem.
So what can you do in Illinois to eventually help these men make some great-great-grandchildren to send to Mexico?
Plant some milkweed in your garden.
Kings should use milkweed like pandas in bamboo. But perhaps the kings are more dependent on milkweed. Not only is it everything that the butterfly eats, but it is also the only place where it will lay its eggs and everything that the emerging caterpillar will eat.
Unfortunately, a lot of the milkweed in Illinois has been lost due to development or simply because people want to weed their yard.
So help the butterflies, plant some herbs in your garden, or don’t kill the plants that are already there, and enjoy some lovely guests in your garden this summer.
LOOK: Amazing animal photos from around the world
From grazing Tibetan antelopes to migrating monarch butterflies, these 50 photos of wildlife around the world capture the incredible grace of the animal kingdom. Extending sequentially from air to land to water, the upcoming exhibition focuses on birds, land mammals, aquatic life, and insects as they work in pairs, groups, or sometimes alone.