It’s Monarch Mania here on the Illinois prairie now! While I couldn’t get super pictures of these beauties, the experience of walking into a clearing of trees with literally hundreds of butterflies swirling about and gliding onto branches was otherworldly. A group of monarchs is called a ‘congregation’ and during their migration, they travel up to 100 miles a day!
Monarch butterflies produce several generations throughout the year living for only a few weeks each, except for the generation that makes the annual migration to Mexico and those butterflies can have a lifespan up to six months. Adults feed on flower nectar, while the larvae feed on milkweed, a common prairie flower and one I have added to my own garden. The poison Monarchs ingest from the milkweed stays in its body throughout all the life stages and is what gives the butterfly its toxicity to predators.
Many unfortunate factors are contributing to Monarch population decline including habitat destruction and deforestation, pervasive insecticide and herbicide use, loss of milkweed due to excessive mowing and intensive agricultural planting, as well as a number of other contributing causes. As a home gardener, you can do your part to encourage these spectacular creatures by adding milkweed to your garden, providing flowers for nectar, especially native species like black-eyed Susan, purple coneflower and asters and avoiding pesticide use where possible.