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Monarch butterflies arriving for the summer

CARTERVILLE (WSIL) — Monarch butterfly sightings have begun in the Midwest, and with warmer weather in the forecast later this week, more are sure to be showing up. 

You can track their migration here.

The monarch is the only butterfly known to migrate like birds, traveling up from the south in the spring and back south in the fall. Migration is essential for the monarch’s survival. Unlike other butterflies that can stay over winter as larvae, pupae, or even as adults, monarchs cannot survive the cold winters of northern climates. 

Monarchs use a combination of air currents and thermals to travel long distances. Some fly as far as 3,000 miles to reach their winter home. 

In the eastern U.S., monarchs migrate to the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico. There, they overwinter in the same 11 to 12 mountainous areas, roosting on oyamel fir forest at an elevation of between 7800′ to nearly 12,000′ above sea-level. This elevation provides ideal temperature and humidity ranges for the monarch butterflies. 

When wintering, monarchs congregate in clusters that can be in the tens of thousands on a single tree. 

Over the last 20 years, the number of monarchs have decreased significantly. Monarch butterflies in the eastern U.S. have declined more than 80 percent since the 1980s. In California, the butterflies have seen a decrease of 86 percent just since 2017. Pesticides and habitat loss are typically attributed to the declining numbers of monarchs. As milkweed, the only plant on which the monarchs lay eggs, has declined, so has the butterfly. 

A simple backyard native flower is a great way to attract monarch butterflies to your yard while also helping them. Native nectar flowers are recommended along with native species of milkweed. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has a full list of native flower and plant species listed for a butterfly garden in Illinois. 

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