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Monarch Mania!

Life Cycle

The female monarch lays eggs on milkweed plants. Often the eggs are placed on the bottom of a milkweed leaf, but they can be placed anywhere on the plant. Each egg is white, ridged and has a point at the top. Eggs hatch within a few days into the larval, or caterpillar, stage. The air temperature helps to determine how quickly the eggs hatch. Generally it takes three to five days, but colder temperatures will slow development. The newly hatched larva eats the egg shell first, then "hairs" on the milkweed leaf and then the leaves of the plant.

The larva is cylindrical and soft-bodied. This stage lasts 10-14 days during which the larva eats nearly continually and grows tremendously. It has a hardened head with chewing mouthparts and well-developed maxillary palpi to aid in handling food. The larva also has spinnerets for releasing silk. The larva undergoes several molts before it pupates. "Molting" means to shed the skin. The caterpillar's body grows, but its cuticle (outside covering) does not. It must shed the old cuticle to be able to continue to increase in size. Stages between molts are called instars. Monarch larvae go through five instars before pupating. The monarch larva is brightly colored, serving as a warning to potential predators of the toxins in its body. When it is ready to pupate, the monarch larva spins a silk pad. It uses a series of hooks at the end of the abdomen to anchor to the silken pad. The larva hangs head downward. When it forms a "J," it is getting ready to shed its skin for the final time before pupating.

In the pupal stage, the internal tissues are restructuring to form the adult. It takes about 9-14 days for this transformation to occur. When the adult is preparing to emerge, the pupa turns dark, and the wings can be seen. At the end of this stage, the pupal skin splits apart, and the soft, newly formed adult pulls out. Emergence usually occurs in the morning. It takes several hours before the adult is capable of flying.

Monarchs in Illinois often produce three broods in summer. The last one is the migratory form of this insect. It is structurally different than the monarchs produced in the earlier spring and summer broods. During September and October these monarchs from the last brood of summer start their migration from Illinois to the overwintering grounds of specific, high-altitude forests in Mexico. In spring, these monarchs start the return trip to Illinois. They mate and deposit eggs, traveling as milkweed plants develop along the route. Monarchs usually start reaching Illinois in April. The generations produced in spring and early summer are not migratory.

Monarchs and Milkweeds

A close relationship exists between monarchs (Danaus plexippus) and milkweed plants. Monarch larvae only eat milkweed plants of the genera Asclepias and Ampelamus. If there is no milkweed, there will be no monarchs. Female monarchs usually lay their eggs only on milkweed plants. They find milkweeds by using visual and chemical cues.

What are milkweeds? They are perennial, herbaceous plants. Most have leaves that are paired on the stem or in whorls of four on the stem. Their sap is white and milky. Milkweed plants contain cardiac glycosides. These chemicals are poisonous and affect birds and mammals. Many grazing mammals will not eat milkweeds. The toxicity of milkweeds varies by species, though, and tends to be greater in milkweeds in the southern United States. A few animal species have adapted to milkweeds and thrive on them. Monarch larvae can eat nothing else. The poisons accumulate in the body of the larval monarchs and are retained by the monarch in its transformation to the adult. They make monarchs unpalatable to many predators.

Flowers develop in an umbel at the stem tip. An umbel has a central point from which a group of flowers all develop. Color varies with the species, but milkweeds can be found with white, pink, red, orange, green and purple-pink flowers. The flowers are sometimes described as having an hourglass shape. Each flower has five petals and five sepals that bend downward. A five-parted cup supports five small horns and hoods. The hoods contain nectar and are arranged around the central flower column. The flower column has slits in it. Inside each slit is an opening where pollen must be delivered to fertilize the egg. Also in each slit is the pollinarium that contains the pollen in packets.

When an insect lands on the flower to drink nectar, its leg, antennae or bristles can slip into the slit where the pollen is stored. The pollen-containing structure clips onto the insect part. When the insect pulls away from the flower, this pollen packet goes, too. At another flower, the same insect body part may slip inside another slit in the flower column where the pollen needs to be delivered. If so, that flower is pollinated. Milkweed flowers are unique in this method of pollen transfer. The fruit that develops from the flower is a pod that contains seeds attached to floss. These seeds are easily dispersed by wind.

Twenty-four species of milkweeds grow naturally in Illinois. One of those species is not native to the state. Five species are listed as endangered in Illinois, and one of the five is listed as threatened on the federal endangered and threatened species list.

Milkweeds grow in a variety of habitats. Some of them prefer wet soil. Some of them prefer dry soil. Some of them flourish along roads or in fields. Others grow in open woods or thickets.

Monarch Facts

Monarchs are found in North America but also in Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and other Pacific islands.

The monarch (Danaus plexippus) was chosen in 1975 to be Illinois' State Insect. Six other states named the monarch as their State Insect, too.

Monarchs can be found statewide in weedy areas, prairies, roadsides, pastures and marshes.

The adult feeds on flower nectar, and the larva eats milkweed (Asclepias spp. and Ampelamus spp.) plants. There are four stages in the life cycle: egg; larva; pupa; adult.

The monarch larva eats a lot and grows rapidly. When it is ready to pupate, it weighs about 3,000 times more than when it hatched from the egg.

The first pair of legs on adult monarchs is very small and held next to the body. These legs are used for tasting.

A group of monarchs is called a congregation.

Experiments have shown that monarch adults prefer orange flowers to those of other colors when searching for nectar.

Monarchs can fly at speeds reaching about 20 miles per hour.

They travel from 40 to 100 miles per day when migrating, gliding on favorable winds to help speed them along.

Monarchs ingest poisons from milkweeds that they eat during their larval stage. The poisons stay in this insect's body through the larval, pupal and adult stages. Cardiac glycosides induce vomiting in predators, and cardenolides are bitter tasting.

Even though they are toxic, monarchs do have predators. Two species of birds and a species of mouse prey on monarchs at their overwintering site in Mexico. A parasitic protozoan is transferred from generation to generation in monarchs, too.

Monarchs produce several generations each year with each living only a few weeks except for the generation produced in late summer or early fall. That generation migrates to Mexico and can live for about six months.

Monarchs in North America are the only butterflies with a predictable, annual migration. They migrate about 2,500 miles to a special type of high-altitude forest in Mexico.

An International Migrant

Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) from east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States and southern Canada travel as much as 2,500 miles in an annual migration from their summer habitat to their overwintering grounds in Mexico. Many other butterfly species migrate, but monarchs are the only butterfly species with a regular, predictable, round-trip migration.

The monarchs from the eastern North American population spend the winter in oyamel fir (Abies religiosa) forests at high altitudes in the mountains of central Mexico where they form dense clusters on the trees.

Upon reaching the overwintering sites, the monarchs' metabolism slows down, suspending their activities until environmental conditions improve. On sunny days, they may leave the trees to collect nectar and obtain minerals from moist soil.

The spring migration from the mountains to eastern North America is completed over the course of two generations of monarchs. They move northward as milkweeds start growing on the migratory route. These monarchs live a few (two to six) weeks with the females laying eggs along the way. The return trip to Mexico is composed of monarchs from the last generation of the year. They fly the entire route to Mexico. They are biologically and behaviorally different from the other monarchs that developed in spring and summer. They live for about eight to nine months. Unlike the monarchs that develop in spring and summer and can reproduce about four to six days after emerging, the last generation of adult monarchs each year does not have fully developed reproductive organs, an energy-saving feature. This generation of monarchs feeds voraciously on nectar and builds up fat reserves. They benefit by feeding on nectar, if available, along the migratory route, to save the fat reserves for winter survival. It has been shown that decreasing day length, cooler night temperatures and decreasing milkweed plant quality lead them to start migration in the fall.

They have never been on this journey before. How do they navigate? Experiments have shown that ultraviolet light, an internal time-compensated sun compass and possibly other factors, like mountain ranges or bodies of water, may all play a role in navigation.

The trip to Mexico takes two to three months. Monarchs will not fly when weather conditions are unfavorable.

There are also monarchs in western North America, mainly south and west of the Rocky Mountains and into southwestern Canada. Most of these western monarchs migrate to eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp.), Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa), Monterey pine (Pinus radiata) and other trees growing in groves along the Pacific Ocean from southern California to Baja, Mexico, to overwinter. A few go to the locations in central Mexico where the majority of the eastern North American monarchs overwinter.

Some monarchs overwinter in southern Florida and along the Gulf Coast, generally living on tropical milkweeds that are not native to these regions.

Why do monarchs migrate? Some scientists believe that monarchs may have originated in the tropics and moved north each spring to find more milkweed plants. They have not evolved ways to survive the harsh winters in eastern North America so they return to more favorable areas to wait until milkweed is available again.

Monarchs that live on tropical islands and other places where it is warm year-round do not migrate and seem to be able to reproduce all year.

Tagging programs help scientists study migrating monarchs. Such programs led to the discovery of the overwintering sites in Mexico in 1975.

Monarchs at Risk

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) populations have been rapidly declining in North America since 1997. From 1999 through 2012 in the Midwestern United States, there was a 64 percent decrease in the amount of milkweed available and an 88 percent decline in the number of monarchs present. While there have been some years of increases, overall the number of monarchs is decreasing. 

For the 2013-2014 overwintering season in Mexico, monarchs covered just 0.67 hectares (1.66 acres) of forest, the smallest amount of overwintering monarchs seen in these locations since they were discovered. The largest area in the past 20 years was 20.97 hectares (51.82 acres) in the winter of 1996-97. The number of monarchs overwintering in Mexico in 2016 was up, but a winter storm in March killed many monarchs and blew down many trees in the overwintering area. For the 2016-2017 period, there were an estimated 109 million monarchs occupying 2.91 hectares (7.2 acres). Click here for more information.

There are several natural and human-caused factors occurring at the same time to create a "perfect storm" of problems for monarch survival.

Monarchs are being killed unintentionally by herbicides and insecticides used to control weeds and other insects.

Illegal logging and forest degradation in the Mexican overwintering sites has reduced available suitable habitat.

Loss of milkweed plants due to habitat conversion to other uses and changes in land management practices has been devastating. It is estimated that since 1996, more than 167 million acres of milkweed habitat has been lost.

Drought conditions in the western United States have resulted in fewer milkweed plants.

Overwintering habitat loss and degradation in California due to development in and around the groves as well as loss of trees in the overwintering groves due to age has hurt these monarch populations.

Intensive agricultural planting reduces field margins where milkweed plants once thrived. Mowing along roadways also removes milkweed plants.

Temperatures the past few years have been unfavorable for the development of the immature stages of the first returning monarchs in the spring and the ability of the adult monarchs to move northward. Monarchs arriving later in the summer breeding grounds are not able to produce as many offspring as previously. Monarchs leaving later in the fall are not surviving as well along the migratory route.

Black swallow-wort (Vincetoxicum nigrum) and pale swallow-wort (Vincetoxicum rossicum) are members of the milkweed family that are native to Europe. They were accidentally introduced to the United States in the 1800s. Female monarchs will lay eggs on these plants, but the monarch larvae cannot eat them. These larvae die. These are called "dead-end" host plants. These two swallow-wort species also crowd out native milkweed plants. Black swallow-wort can be found in Illinois. Pale swallow-wort grows in Indiana, Wisconsin and Missouri and may also be present in Illinois.

Helping Monarchs

You can help monarchs (Danaus plexippus) by taking the following actions.

1. Plant native milkweed plants.

Twenty-three milkweed species are native to Illinois, but some of them are endangered and threatened. The following five species are usually easily obtained from plant nurseries or native plant sales and would make good additions to your garden or a nice start to a butterfly or pollinator garden.

common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) It grows best in well-drained soil.

swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) This species prefers soil that is damp most of the time.

butterfly-weed (Asclepias tuberosa) Butterfly-weed grows best in well-drained soil.

horsetail milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) This species is suited for open areas with sunshine all day.

poke milkweed(Asclepias exaltata) Poke milkweed grows in woodlands and shady spaces.

2. Plant other native plants that provide nectar for butterflies and other pollinators.

Monarch adults feed on milkweed nectar as do about 130 other insect species. However, they also take nectar from many other native wildflowers. You can attract a variety of butterflies and other pollinators by providing more species of native wildflowers. If you include the host plants for larval species and nectar plants for the adults, you will attract butterflies that will stay near your garden for a longer period of time.

Good choices include purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), blazing-star (Liatris spp.), goldenrods (Solidago spp.), asters (Symphyotrichum spp.), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), ironweeds (Vernonia spp.) and wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa).

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources' Butterfly Gardens brochure provides more information.

3. Don't kill milkweed plants.

Monarchs caterpillars only eat milkweed. If monarch eggs are laid on plants other than milkweed, the caterpillars cannot survive and ultimately starve to death.

4. Encourage public land managers to create monarch habitat.

Let public land managers know that you are concerned about the status of monarchs and that planting monarch habitat is important to you. Your voice can make a difference. Encourage the planting of milkweeds and other native wildflowers and grasses along roadways, on the edges of farm fields, along railroad tracks and in the rights-of-way for electric transmission lines and pipelines. Talk to local park managers and express your concerns to them as well.

5. Join citizen-science efforts to monitor monarch populations.

Monarch Watch, Journey North, the North American Butterfly Association, the Illinois Monitoring Network and the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project are examples of programs that citizens can participate in to help collect monarch data for use in scientific research.

6. Support conservation efforts for monarchs and other pollinators.

The North American Monarch Conservation Plan was prepared by the Secretariat of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation and can be accessed here.

The Monarch Joint Venture is a partnership of federal and state agencies, nongovernmental organizations and academic programs that are working together to protect monarch migration across the lower 48 states. Partners include the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Pollinator Partnership, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and many other organizations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has initiated a campaign to Save the Monarch Butterfly. Read more about it here.

7. Avoid using pesticides, if possible.

Beneficial insects like monarchs and other pollinators can be negatively affected by using pesticides to control unwanted insect and plant species.

8. Educate people about this issue. Everyone can help!

You can help save the monarch butterfly.

Schools and Monarchs

Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) can provide great educational value in many subject areas and are an accessible resource. They are found statewide. They are easily recognized by students of all ages. They can be attracted to your schoolyard by planting native milkweeds. They are abundant when school starts in the fall but can also be found in late spring. All stages of the life cycle can be observed, and the transformation is mesmerizing to children and adults. 

Students can be involved with tagging and then tracking monarchs online through Monarch Watch.

Monarchs can be used to support educational goals from early childhood through high school. For early childhood students, studying monarchs can help them to develop skills in observing, asking questions, solving problems and drawing conclusions. They can also demonstrate concepts in relation to understanding that living things grow and change and that living things rely on the environment and/or others to live and grow. Tools and technology, such as magnifying glasses, computers and digital cameras, can be used to study monarchs.

Teachers of grades from kindergarten to high school can use monarchs to help study such topics as: describing patterns of survival; finding a solution to a problem caused when the environment changes and the types of plants and animals that live there may change; defining a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity; and many others too numerous to name here. Other subject areas can be incorporated into teaching about this topic as well.

Monarchs can be used to show a connection between the people and cultures of the United States and Mexico. Geography can be used in tracing the migratory route and discovering the locations of and reasons for selecting the specific overwintering sites. Stories, poems, plays, artwork and songs can be developed with monarchs as the theme. Mathematics can be used to estimate daily migration rates, number of monarchs per hectare in the overwintering range, percent loss of monarchs in the last decade and other calculations.

Students can go outdoors to study this species in their neighborhood. They can use technological tools to inform their community about their monarch studies and ask for community involvement in helping monarchs. Students can also add or enhance a schoolyard butterfly garden to support learning and assist monarchs and other pollinators. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) sponsors the Schoolyard Habitat Action Grant program that makes funds available to teachers for the purpose of developing or enhancing wildlife habitat on the school grounds or other public place. The IDNR also sponsors the Illinois Biodiversity Field Trip Grant to provide funds for teachers to take their students on a natural resources-related field trip in the state. For example, students could go to a prairie to look for monarchs. There are many other ways that teachers could use monarchs as educational tools, too.

Invasive Species and Monarchs

Monarch larvae must eat milkweed plants to survive. They are adapted to the milkweed plants of the scientific genera Asclepias and Ampelamus. Female monarchs lay eggs on milkweed plants so that the larvae will have an immediate food source when they hatch from the egg.

A problem has developed, though, that has led to female monarchs laying eggs on the wrong types of plants in the eastern United States. Black swallow-wort (Vincetoxicum nigrum) and pale swallow-wort (Vincetoxicum rossicum) are members of the milkweed family that are native to Europe. They were accidentally introduced to the United States in the 1800s. They are known as "dead-end" hosts. Female monarchs will lay eggs on these plants, but the monarch larvae cannot eat them. These larvae die. Experiments have shown that female monarchs will lay eggs on these nonnative plants even when native milkweeds are present in the same area. These two swallow-wort species also crowd out native milkweed plants, reducing native plant biodiversity and biodiversity of the animals that depend upon the native milkweeds. Black swallow-wort grows in Illinois. Pale swallow-wort is currently found in three of Illinois’ border states so the chance of it advancing into Illinois is good.

Both of these swallow-wort species are herbaceous vines that can grow to a length of 6.5 feet. They have clear sap. Their leaves are opposite each other on the stem, oval, with smooth margins and a pointed tip. Black swallow-wort flowers are dark purple and are similar in appearance to native milkweed flowers. Their petals are about as wide as they are long. Pale swallow-wort flowers range from pink to burgundy. Their petals are longer than wide. The seed pods of both species are longer than those of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), but they contain seeds that are similar in appearance to those of common milkweed and are wind-dispersed.

There is another milkweed in Illinois that should not be confused with these two invaders. Sandvine (Ampelamus albidus) grows in Illinois, and monarch larvae can eat it. It is a vine that has heart-shaped leaves and white flowers.

What can be done to stop the invasive swallow-worts? The first step is to successfully identify the plants. They are easiest to identify when they are blooming. Plants in full sun produce fruits sooner than those in shaded areas and should be eradicated first to reduce seed dispersal. When swallow-wort has been removed, it is important to plant the area with native plants quickly so that more invasive species do not move in. Digging, cutting, mowing and seed pod removal can help control these plants. Cutting should be used in combination with other techniques, since cutting alone can lead to resprouting.

Prescribed burns can help to keep these plants out of an area after they have been removed by other methods. Appropriate disposal of all roots, root parts and seeds is required to ensure that they do not grow. Bag them and either burn them or dispose of them in a landfill. Do not put them in a compost pile.

Value of Monarchs and Other Pollinators

Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) are pollinators, as are many other insects and some bats. Hummingbirds, some monkeys, some rodents and other animals are pollinators, too. Humans can be pollinators as well! Not all plants need pollinators, but about 85 percent of them do. These plants would not be able to produce seeds and fruits without pollinators.

Pollinators help plants by transferring pollen. Pollen contains the male reproductive cells. For fertilization to occur, pollen must reach the female reproductive cells of the plant. Some pollen is carried by wind. Other pollen must be transferred by animals. The animals that move pollen are called pollinators. They are important to both native plants and agricultural crops.

In the United States, more than 150 crop plants require pollinators. Pollinators help insure that we have food to eat. It is estimated that one of every three bites of food that we eat is related to the actions of pollinators. Pollinators provide more than $10 billion in economic value annually in the United States, but they are also vital to the existence of native plants and all of the animals that feed on them.

Pollinators are in decline worldwide. Habitat loss, pesticide use, competition from nonnative species and diseases are killing pollinators.

What can you do to help pollinators? Plant native wildflowers. Use a variety of species so that you will provide flowers (nectar sources) from spring through fall. Provide shelter and overwintering areas for pollinators. Use chemicals only when necessary and use the least toxic chemicals. Include host plants for larval butterflies. Save a few dead limbs for bees to nest in or build a bee nesting box. We can each take small actions that will combine to make a huge positive difference.

IDNR Involvement

What is the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) doing to Help Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) and Other Pollinators?

The IDNR Division of Natural Heritage works to improve and increase the amount of habitat for native pollinators statewide. Their staff members work with public and private landowners. They are leading coordination of monarch conservation in the state starting with the Illinois Monarch Butterfly Summit held on September 9, 2016.

The Illinois Wildlife Preservation Fund supports projects to increase pollinator habitat.

"Monarch Mania!" was the theme for Conservation World at the Illinois State Fair in 2014. Educational displays, activities and information were present throughout Conservation World. A packet of common milkweed seeds (Asclepias syriaca) was given to every family who signed the pledge board to “Plant Milkweeds for Monarchs!” An educational Web page and nine video podcasts (IDNR Web site and YouTube) were posted to the IDNR Web site. Some of the displays were also used at the 2014 Du Quoin State Fair.

In total, during the fall of 2014 and winter of 2015, 10,600 packets of common milkweed seeds were distributed to the following groups: families at the Illinois State Fair; every public and private school in the state recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education; all public libraries; colleges and universities; and teachers at teacher conferences. The mailings to the schools, libraries and colleges/universities included a letter explaining the declines that monarchs are facing, factors causing the decline and positive actions that could be taken to help this species.

Several ENTICE (Environment and Nature Training Institute for Conservation Education) educator workshops have been held on the topics of Illinois Pollinators, Monarch Mania!, Illinois Native Bees and Illinois Butterflies and Moths.

Kids for Conservation’s® August 2014 topic was Monarchs. The August 2015 topic was Habitat Helpers!

A Webinar on the status of monarchs and how to help them was conducted in December 2014 with the cooperation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife program.

During the 2015 Illinois State Fair, families who visited Conservation World had the opportunity to pledge to be a Habitat Helper! and receive a packet of seeds from native plants that are beneficial as food sources for pollinators. Pollinators, monarchs and native bees were also featured topics in the IDNR Division of Education tent. At the 2016 Illinois State Fair, monarchs and native bees were highlighted in the Division of Education tent. Milkweed seeds were distributed by the Illinois Recreational Access Program. During the 2017 Illinois State Fair, the IDNR Division of Education featured “Pollinators” in their tent with activities and information for children and adults. Seeds from native plants to develop a pollinator garden were distributed. A pollinator garden and native prairie plant gardens were available to view. The IDNR Illinois Recreational Access Program provided common milkweed seeds and developed a butterfly house for people to visit.

The Schoolyard Habitat Action Grant from the IDNR Division of Education provided to teachers and youth-group leaders with the support of the Jadel Family Foundation, the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Foundation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife program and the Illinois Conservation Foundation funds many butterfly gardens, rain gardens, pollinator gardens, prairies and other wildlife habitat areas.

Earth Day in the Parks from the IDNR Division of Education offers approximately 1,000 students per year the opportunity to perform natural resources stewardship activities at Illinois state parks. More than a hundred thousand native plants have been established from their work. The Illinois Wildlife Preservation Fund has supported this program with funding.

The IDNR’s Mason State Nursery is participating in the “Monarch Wings Across the Eastern Boreal Forest” program. This multi-state effort is being led by the Pollinator Partnership and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to collect seeds from native plants that produce good monarch and pollinator habitats in the states of Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. The seeds will be cleaned at the Mason State Nursery and sent back to the states to be planted in designated areas to increase monarch/pollinator habitat. The Mason State Nursery also sells packets of seeds and container plants that are suitable for development of monarch/pollinator gardens and habitat areas.


Information from the following resources was used throughout the podcasts and text on this Web site.

Chicago Botanic Garden. 2014. Make way for monarchs: a Janet Meakin Poor research symposium. Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe.

Davies, Hazel and Butler, Carol. 2008. Do butterflies bite? Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey. 224 pp.

Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network, 2014.

Journey North. 2014.

Monarch Butterfly Fund. 2014.

Monarch Joint Venture. 2014.

MonarchWatch. 2014.

North American Butterfly Association. 2014.

Pollinator Partnership. 2014.

Rea, Ba. 2010. Learning from monarchs. Bas Relief LLC, Union, West Virginia. 42 pp.

Rea, Ba, Oberhauser, Karen and Michael Quinn. 2010. Milkweed, monarchs and more. Bas Relief LLC, Union, West Virginia. 79 pp.

Rosenblatt, Lynn M. 1998. Monarch magic! Butterfly activities and nature discoveries. Williamson Publishing Company, Quebec, Canada. 96 pp.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. 2014.

United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. 2014.

United States Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service. 2014.

United States Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service. 2015.

University of Minnesota. 2014.

Wild Ones: Native Plants, Natural Landscapes. 2014.

Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. 2014.

Monarch Activities

Illinois Schools Planted Milkweeds for Monarchs!

In September 2014, the IDNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Partners for Fish and Wildlife program mailed a packet of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) seeds to every Illinois public and private school recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education. A packet of milkweed seeds was also sent to each college/university and public library in the state.

Blessed Sacrament School, Belleville
Diane Diekemper’s fourth and fifth grade science classes at Blessed Sacrament School in Belleville planted a butterfly garden in spring 2014. Each spring and fall since then they have added more native plant species including in October 2016, when additional milkweed plants were planted.

Students are Helping Monarchs in Other Ways, Too!

Neoga High School's "Winged Biodiversifiers" team of students hosted an informational program and dinner to educate community members about the plight of the monarch (Danaus plexippus) and provide strategies for helping this species and its habitat.

Gregory Intermediate School, Moweaqua

Fifth-grade students at Gregory Intermediate School in Moweaqua researched and then made a presentation about this species at the Moweaqua Public Library Fall Festival. After the presentation, the students planted milkweed seeds on a plot of land in the back of the library.

Prairie Buffer Habitat

Waubonsie Valley High School partners with the Fox Valley Park District to install prairie buffer habitat along Lake Waubonsie in Aurora, Illinois. Every May, AP Environmental Science students learn about habitat restoration firsthand and improve a high-quality flyway that attracts numerous bird and butterfly species, including monarchs. Recently, this area was incorporated into the Fox Valley Monarch Corridor.

Brookfield Zoo

Brookfield Zoo staff members worked with two local libraries to encourage the incorporation of pollinator-friendly plants and practices into their current gardens. In addition, they worked together to align some of their spring and/or summer reading programs with pollinator conservation. To support these literacy programs Chicago Zoological Society staff have conducted programs either at the library or at Brookfield Zoo that encourage people to do the same in their backyards. They led activities such as making seed balls and held gym shoe garden workshops. They also worked with Boy Scouts seeking projects to earn their Eagle Scout badge. If you have any questions about these activities, send a message to

Brookfield Zoo and Chicago Wilderness

A Brookfield Zoo staff member is working with the Chicago Wilderness Network on their current Priority Species project which is the monarch butterfly. They are in the process of developing long-term goals and objectives as is the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. If you have any questions about these activities, send a message to

Day Treatment School, Peoria
The students at Day Treatment School in Peoria planted a prairie garden in 2013. It attracted monarchs, and the students raised the larvae in the classroom in September 2016. In 2017, they received a grant to plant 50 milkweed plants. Cheryl Halm CHERYL.HALM@PSD150.ORG

Monarch Mural Challenge, Decatur
The Macon County Conservation District and State Representative Sue Scherer launched the Monarch Mural Challenge, a coloring contest for Decatur fourth grade classrooms during the 2016-2017 school year. Students learned about this important pollinator while coloring and assembling a large mural of monarch butterflies. Ms. Sommer's class at Parsons Elementary School won the grand prize: a free field trip to Rock Springs Nature Center, including all costs for transportation. All other participating classrooms won a free naturalist program in their classroom on a natural science topic of their choice. All of the students' murals will be on display during a monarch exhibit in Rock Springs Nature Center from May through September 2017. Katherine Unruh

Pollinator Workshop
On January 22, 2016, a pollinator workshop was conducted in Galesburg with presentations about the importance of pollinators and how to create and manage pollinator habitat. Farmers, gardeners and naturalists were the targeted audience. The workshop was led by the Knox County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Youth Pollinator Field Days
Youth pollinator field days were conducted near East Galesburg (March 4, 2016) and in Galesburg (March 9, 2016) in which youth learned about pollinator conservation and then hand-seeded a one-acre pollinator plot at each location. Elementary students were the targeted audience. The first workshop was led by the Knox County Pheasants Forever Chapter while the second workshop was led by the Knox County Pheasants Forever Chapter and staff from Galesburg Parks and Recreation.

Quad Cities Pollinator Conference
June 23-24, 2016, were the dates for the Illinois/Iowa Quad Cities Pollinator Conference in Davenport, Iowa, with presentations about the impact of pollinators and how to create and manage pollinator habitat. The general public and conservation professionals were the targeted audience. The conference was led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Nahant Marsh staff and other conservation partners.

Pollinator Field Tour
A pollinator field tour was held on June 30, 2016, near Macomb. Presentations and field walks about pollinators and upland habitat conservation were conducted. Master naturalists and conservation enthusiasts were the targeted audience. The tour was led by staff from the University of Illinois Extension and Pheasants Forever.

Habitat Farm Tour
On July 12 and 14, 2016, a habitat farm tour was conducted near the city of Laura with presentations about prairie plant identification and benefits and a farm tour through pollinator and wildlife habitat. Landowners were the targeted audience. The tour was led by the Peoria County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Peoria County Pheasants Forever Chapter.

Monarch Family Fun Fair

The “Monarch Family Fun Fair” is in its third year. Held in summer at Crystal Lake Park District Main Beach in Crystal Lake, the Fair draws hundreds of families to learn about monarch and pollinator conservation. Organized by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Monarch Coalition that runs the fair has grown to more than 20 conservation partners, including the McHenry County Conservation District, Loyola University, McHenry County schools, native plant organizations, faith-based members and others. Fair booths include live butterflies and caterpillars, native plant information, science activities, monarch face painting, a children’s monarch art show and migration and climate information. Families are provided with a monarch quiz written in English and Spanish, learn the answers by going to each booth and are rewarded with free ice cream tokens to redeem at the local Culver’s Restaurant. For more information, contact Nancy Williamson at

McHenry County Monarch Habitat Efforts

In 2016, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Chicago Field Office, The Friends of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County, Loyola University, the McHenry Fair Board, the Crystal Lake Park District, the Wonder Lake Sportsman’s Club and the McHenry County Conservation District to install more than 2,000 quart- and plug-sized monarch host and nectar plants in eight sites. Two are right-of-way plantings in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Transportation and the City of Woodstock maintained by the Defenders of McHenry County, and the County Fair site is situated near the Conservation World tent and used as a demonstration for fair-goers. Loyola University interns will monitor four of the sites for monarch production using protocols from Monarch Joint Venture. For more information, contact Nancy Williamson at

Decatur Public Schools

Dennis Lab School in Decatur in 1975 made history by initiating the campaign to make the monarch Illinois’ state insect. Since then, the school has celebrated monarchs annually on October 1. Classrooms study the life cycle, migration patterns and habitats. Milkweed seeds are handed out to students and the community. In 1985, a monarch sculpture was created by the students and is positioned outside the school. In 2005, a butterfly garden was created on the school grounds to further educate students about the survival needs of the monarch. Each spring every student plants a flower in the garden (480 students) with the help of community volunteers and Master Gardeners. In 2014-2015, third grade students conducted a successful campaign to make the sculpture a city landmark. Throughout the campaign students spoke of the dwindling population of and loss of habitat for the monarch. In 2016-2017, students worked with staff from Millikin University conducting experiments on milkweed seeds. Students were also involved in writing a letter to the legislature regarding the proposed elimination of Illinois’ state symbols. Linda Burnham, Dennis Lab School, Decatur, 217-362-3510,

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago
Metamorphosing Monarchs Workshop
Museum educators taught field trip workshops where students became butterfly scientists and learned about the body parts and life cycle of monarch butterflies. They created their own butterfly life cycle models to take home and use to teach others what they know. Targeted Audience: first through third grade students
Contact: Chicago Academy of Sciences/Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum Education Department –

Monarchs Conservation Clubs PD
Formal and informal educators spent an evening at the Nature Museum learning more about local ecology, monarch butterfly conservation and the biology behind this iconic insect! Workshop attendees learned from experts, interacted with museum specimens and explored strategies to connect these topics to youth audiences. July 2016 and June 2017 Targeted Audience: formal and informal educators and youth and community leaders
Contact: Chicago Academy of Sciences/Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum Education Department –

Monarchs Conservation Clubs
Monarch Clubs is an initiative of the Nature Museum that aimed to raise awareness about Chicago’s urban ecosystems and local wildlife by exploring the nature and science behind monarchs – these and other critical pollinators offer a glimpse of the city’s vast environmental landscape and its biodiversity. July and August 2016 Targeted Audience: community organizations and groups of students from third through eighth grade
Contact: Chicago Academy of Sciences/Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum Education Department –

Monarch Mania!

The IDNR Division of Education sponsored a Monarch Mania! ENTICE (Environment and Nature Training Institute for Conservation Education) educator workshop on July 18, 2017, at Gardner Camp in Hull, Illinois.

IDNR Activities at Conservation World during the 2017 Illinois State Fair

During the 2017 Illinois State Fair, the IDNR Division of Education featured “Pollinators” in their tent with activities and information for children and adults. Seeds from native plants to develop a pollinator garden were distributed. A pollinator garden and native prairie plant gardens were available to view. The IDNR Illinois Recreational Access Program provided common milkweed seeds and developed a butterfly house for people to visit.

Carriel Junior High School Conducts Many Monarch Activities
The students at Carriel Junior High School in O’Fallon School District 90 have created a butterfly garden. They are also growing milkweed plants and collecting seeds from them on campus and researching additional species to add to campus next spring. They participate in the Monarch Watch program as a registered waystation and through tagging monarchs that they find. Several monarch larvae are being raised indoors. They created Facebook and Twitter accounts that people can follow regarding the garden, habitat, composting and other related efforts, @CarrielGarden. They would like to connect with other schools through social media that have similar programs and ideas to share. Contact Person: Amanda Mellenthin,

Monarch and Pollinator Event
The Illinois Conservation Foundation hosted the first annual Monarch & Pollinator Day family event at the Torstenson Youth Conservation Education Center, Pecatonica, Illinois, to promote the migration of the monarch butterfly and celebrate National Honey Month on Saturday, September 9, 2017. Local beekeeper and Winnebago Boone Farm Bureau “Ag in the Classroom” instructor Phil Raines, from Raines Honey Farm, shared his wealth of knowledge on pollinators and beekeeping and Jeanine Standard from Canton, Illinois, and a monarch butterfly advocate, shared her in-depth knowledge on the monarch and demonstrated a monarch tagging technique, while University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist volunteers were on hand and supported the event activities. Illinois Conservation Foundation, Executive Director, Eric Schenck was on hand to welcome everyone and participate in the event. For information, contact Tom Hoffman at

Monarch Waystation
On July 14, 2017, with the help of young volunteers in the area and staff, the Illinois Conservation Foundation (ICF) at their Torstenson Youth Conservation Education Center (TYCEC), Pecatonica, Illinois, began the final process of becoming a “Monarch Waystation” as part of the MonarchWatch program by planting milkweed and applying for certification. “Monarch Waystations” provide milkweed, nectar plants and shelter for monarchs throughout their annual cycle of reproduction and migration. By creating and maintaining a “Monarch Waystation” the ICF and TYCEC will be contributing to monarch conservation and help to assure the continuation of the monarch migration through Illinois. For information, contact Tom Hoffman at

Byron Station Conservation Club
In 2017, Exelon Nuclear’s Byron Station in Byron IL planted 14 acres of high diversity pollinator mix on former pasture.  This adds to the 45 acres planted in corn stubble in the spring of 2015. An additional 10 acres was seeded this spring with more projects planned for the future.

Monarch Mania! ENTICE
The IDNR Division of Education sponsored three Monarch Mania! ENTICE (Environment and Nature Training Institute for Conservation Education) educator workshops during the 2018 fiscal year (July 18, 2017, at Gardner Camp in Hull; May 12, 2018, at Giant City State Park in Makanda; and June 23, 2018, at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe).

Linda Hess, retired teacher from Quincy schools, has been working to help monarchs by promoting the growth of milkweed and nectar-producing plants. She also collects monarch eggs attached to milkweed leaves, raising the monarchs in the protected conditions of her home and releasing them when they reach the adult stage. She raised about 50 monarchs in 2017. She works with a local garden club on an annual monarch tagging project, too.

Monarch Magic and Other Programs in South Beloit
Nature at the Confluence in South Beloit, Illinois, has conducted the following monarch-related programs since opening in June 2017.  They also worked with the South Beloit mayor to sign the Mayor's Monarch Pledge and feature a "Monarch Magic" exhibit this summer. Contact Person: Therese Oldenburg, Executive Director,

How to Raise Monarchs, July 22, 2018
Would you like to learn about raising monarchs? Come to this program to find out how easy it is to raise a monarch. You’ll learn about the life stages, how to find eggs or caterpillars and how to successfully take care of them until you can release a beautiful monarch butterfly.

Be A Butterfly Hero, June 19, 2018
Bring the kids to Nature At the Confluence for some natural fun! In this program kids visit our monarch exhibit, learn about their life cycle, habitat and the challenges monarchs face. They learn how they can help bring back the monarch population

Monarch Magic Exhibit, June 16-Sept 16, 2018
Our Monarch Magic live exhibit offers people the opportunity to see learn all about the monarch life cycle and how they can help the monarch.

Wild Up Your Backyard – How To Transform Your Yard Into a Wildlife Oasis, March 25, 2018
Guest speaker Mary Anne Mathwich, member of the Wild Ones Natural Landscapers for 23 years, will share how she has invited nature into her yard by introducing native plants into the landscape. You’ll learn the process of turning a “pollinator desert” of a yard into an oasis for butterflies, moths, bees, birds and other creatures.

Butterfly Hero - School Program, May - July, 2018
Students learn all about monarchs, their life cycle, habitat and the challenges monarchs face. They learn how they can help bring back the monarch population

“The Importance of Pollinators” featuring Larry and Emily Scheunemann, September 6, 2017
Our presenters for this program are Larry and Emily Scheunemann, who have a 30-acre farm in Whitewater that focuses on hummingbirds and monarchs. Larry and Emily were featured in the June/July 2017 issue of “Our Wisconsin” magazine, and each year they open their farm to the public in September to observe hummingbird banding and monarch tagging. Attendees of this program will learn about their farm and how you can visit it during their open houses.

Master Gardener Leads Monarch Lesson for Juvenile Detention Youth
On May 24, 2018, Champaign County Master Gardener Ruth Landry led an educational program about monarchs for juvenile detention youth. Pictures and a common milkweed with evidence of feeding activity were used to explain the monarch life cycle. Emphasis was placed on the importance of common milkweed for monarch survival. The migration process and the four different cycles of production of the monarch were discussed. Ruth Landry,

Pollinator Garden in the Village of Bartlett

Girl Scout (GS) Ambassador, Brittney Hull, completed her GS Gold Award project and registered her completed project with the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. Ms. Hull and her volunteer crew of landscapers worked with the Village of Bartlett and the Bartlett Lion’s Club to redesign the garden area around the sign at the corner of Devon Avenue and South Bartlett Road. As part of her project, she planted plants suitable for attracting pollinators. Ms. Hull hopes this project will inspire others to develop their own pollinator garden. 

Sagawau Field Science Station Activities

Staff members at Sagawau Field Science Station in Lemont have been rearing late-instar monarchs to collect scale samples to use in testing for the presence of Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, a protozoan parasite that infects butterflies in the Danaus genus, as well as rearing autumn monarchs for tagging. They lead multiple educational programs about monarchs each summer. See the 2019 summer programs below.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Discovery Day with the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Garden (Plains, Georgia)

Target Audience: adults and high school students, gardeners

Programs: Pollinator Garden Tour, Monarch Lab Tour

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Target Audience: adults and families

Program: Monarch Lab

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Target Audience: adults and families

Program: Monarch Lab

For more information about these events, contact the Sagawau Field Science Station at

Monarch Festival

On August 17, 2019, Faith in Place’s Monarch Festival welcomed the public to Chicago’s South Shore Cultural Center to celebrate the monarch butterfly’s migration story and the parallels to the migration stories of people. Presented thanks in part to support from the Kalliopeia Foundation, the Monarch Festival drew a diverse audience of over 300 to engage with educational exhibits, watch performances by Xochitl-Quetzal Danza Azetca and the South Chicago Dance Theatre, participate in oral history interviews, and celebrate the release of two monarch butterflies, christened “Prom King” and “Princess” by the youngest festival-goers. For more information, contact Veronica Kyle, Faith in Place’s Statewide Outreach Director, at