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Milkweed for Monarchs

Adult monarchs (butterflies) sip nectar from a variety of plants but they only lay their eggs on milkweed. Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed. These bright orange and black butterflies visit Knoch Knolls every summer, flitting here and there as they make their way up north.

You may have heard that monarchs fly all the way to Mexico for the winter and then fly all the way back here. However there are actually three to four generations of butterflies each summer; each one flies a bit further north until the colder weather triggers a change in their behavior. The first generation, hatched after the overwintering adults mate, is born in Mexico and flies over the Gulf of Mexico to the southern United States before they mate, lay eggs and die. The second generation flies a little further north before mating, laying eggs and also dying. The third generation keeps the tradition going and flies onward and northward before mating and laying eggs. They, too, perish before the summer is over. Each of these generations only live for a short period of time - 6 to 8 weeks but the fourth, and last, generation lives considerably longer. Once they emerge from their chrysalis, instead of mating they start flying south. They head to Mexico where they remain for the winter months. They live for 6 to 9 months and may travel as far as 3,000 miles to reach their overwintering spot in the mountains of Mexico. 

Over the past several years, scientists have noticed an alarming drop in the number of monarchs found in both the United States and in Mexico. Habitat loss in both countries is contributing to their decline. When the butterflies make their fall journey south they need places to stop, rest and feed. But these places are fewer and farther between. As a result scientists at the University of Kansas decided to do something. They started tagging butterflies to see how many are making it to Mexico and where they are stopping to rest within the U.S.  This study helped pinpoint and preserve existing monarch habitats and identify potential “Monarch Waystations” along their migration route. Monarch Waystations are areas that provide nectar plants for butterflies and host plants for the caterpillars. Both are necessary for these high-flying colorful insects to survive and thrive.

The Naperville Park District has created several Monarch Waystations within its park system and one is located at Knoch Knolls Park.

For more information on monarchs and how to create your own Monarch Waystation visit Monarch Watch.