Fall is upon us but there’s no reason to put your garden to bed just yet. That’s because the show goes on with birds, thousands of which are migrating and stopping daily in local gardens for a bite to eat or a drink of water. And the activity doesn’t stop there. Monarch butterflies will be looking for nectar – a rich source of energy during their long commute to Mexico. Bees remain active and there’s an assortment of insects – praying mantis and other “beneficials” – that are present until the first fall frost about mid-October. There’s plenty to observe and enjoy.
If you are reading this article, you are probably already aware that monarch butterfly numbers in Illinois are way down. Worse yet, it is our State Insect! But guess what! We can help increase monarch numbers by finding butterfly eggs and raising caterpillars and releasing newly hatched butterflies. What??? Yes, YOU!!
To Attract and Find Monarch Eggs and Caterpillars: You’ll need milkweed plants, the only plants monarchs lay their 200 plus eggs on. Go to a garden center. You know you have milkweed when you rip off a plant leaf and it has white sap. Buy any kind of milkweed. Monarch caterpillars love them all equally. Remember common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is the invasive one that travels by runners.
This South Side Chicago garden attracts an astonishing variety of butterflies thanks to the biodiversity it offers in a neighborhood of otherwise sterile green lawns.
You may have been told that bees are beneficial and that they pollinate a lot of agricultural crops. Most of the time when people talk about bees, they are talking about foreign honeybees, which were brought to North America by Europeans in the 17th century.
Honeybees are fine, but many bees that we see and call honeybees are actually native bees or flies that look like bees.
There are many other bee species native to Illinois, the Midwest and North America. While they aren’t often discussed, they do a lot of pollinating.
Most of you have read many statistics about the plummeting number of monarch butterflies in the United States, Canada and Mexico, their migration site. According to a January, 2014 USA Today report, “The number of monarch butterflies wintering in Mexico plunged this year to its lowest level since studies began in 1993.”
Each of us can do something to help reverse monarch numbers and assure that there will be monarchs in our future. And that is … plant milkweed … the only plant on which monarchs will lay their eggs. The lack of milkweed, the monarchs’ host plant, is an important factor in their drastically declining numbers, along with urban sprawl, extreme weather, new farming practices and illegal logging in the butterflies’ winter habitat in Mexico.
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