dupage monarch project: communities protecting pollinators

Adventures in Monarch Science and Education

I was privileged to attend the North American Monarch Institute (NAMI) three-day course designed for teachers and educators to learn how to lead their students, colleagues, and community in the science and conservation of monarchs. This course was provided through a partnership of Monarch Joint Venture, University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum and the US Forest Service – International Programs.

The USFS invited participants from Currier and Wegner Schools in West Chicago and one generalist recommended through the DuPage Monarch Project. There were sixty participants from all over the United States and Mexico.

Maria  Eugenia Gonzalez and Vincent Gresham are using the magnifying tools provided by NAMI to identify insects that came out of sweep nets.

On Wednesday and Friday, the classes were held at the University of Wisconsin – Madison Arboretum. The Thursday class was held at the Aldo Leopold Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin. The first day focused on the biology, ecology and conservation of the Monarch. The second day focused on using the schoolyard for teaching. The third and final day focused on networking, planning and promoting gardens as learning laboratories.

Dr. Karen Oberhauser, Director, University of Wisconsin Madison Arboretum

This was an intensive and amazing three days! I was in the company of teachers, museum and nature center staff that included our counterparts from Mexico who help form and maintain this amazing multinational partnership. The instruction was provided by very knowledgeable and passionate NAMI staff, along with presentations on the current efforts to conserve the Monarch in Mexico. The Monarch uses all of North America for the migration and is loved by the people of three countries. The partnership between Canada, Mexico and the United States to strengthen and preserve the Monarch Flyway is vital not only to the conservation of the Monarch but also to other migrating species such as dragonflies, bats and birds. The conservation of all pollinators is strengthened every time citizens of each country plant and cultivate a native garden. So simple, yet many more of us are needed to do so to fully replace lost native milkweed. I want to emphasize native milkweed, but more on that in a future article.

A team exercise in using a planner for guiding a Science and Investigation project.

Every student was sent home with a wealth of information, powerpoint presentations, handouts, lesson plans, posters, tools for teaching, hands-on learning activities for all ages and several books to read in our spare time! As the generalist, I hope to support the West Chicago teachers in future projects and to create opportunities to encourage and teach interested members of our community in becoming citizen-scientist participants.

Judith Allyn Horsley has been a certified Master Naturalist since 2012.  She began distributing milkweed seeds in 2013 and has distributed over 2500 packets of common milkweed seed. She is a member of West Chicago’s America in Bloom committee, has taught monarch conservation at park district summer camps and is active with the Environmental Stewardship Committee at her church.

All photos courtesy of Judi Horsley.

Monarch Webinar


The Field Museum invites the Chicago Region community to join the Monarch Community Science Project. Be a part of groundbreaking science to show how YOUR milkweed is helping monarchs. If you have milkweed plants or are willing to plant them, please consider helping us measure the contribution of those plants to monarch conservation. This community science project is designed to be accessible to anyone, especially families and those new to community science.

Please consider attending the following in person workshops:

-Forest Park Public Library
July 8, 1-3pm

-Glenview Village
July 9, 4:30-6:30pm

Webinar: July 3rd, 12-2pm

Register for one of these trainings:

To learn about our project:

Let us know if you have any questions. We look forward to hearing from you!


Adriana Fernandez
Monarch Community Science Coordinator
The Field Museum
Chicago, IL

Meet Your Local Pollinators

Has your garden gone quiet, the hum and buzz of busy pollinators a faint whisper? Do you remember summer nights driving through clouds of insects but now arrive home with a clean windshield? Do you miss the enchantment of watching the flash and glimmer of fireflies?

While we’ve been busy doing human stuff, pollinators and insects have been quietly disappearing. For years the decline went unnoticed. Insects are small, many live outdoors and often the everyday human insect interactions are annoying, ants in the kitchen, mosquitoes in the yard, yellow jackets threatening a picnic. Hard to miss something you want to avoid.

photo: lonnie morris

Though often overlooked, insects are the keystone of life, a pivotal connection between plants and animals. Our lives are being diminished by their decline.

A growing number of studies confirm insects are declining in abundance with a number of species in danger of extinction. Insects in general are declining but the ones commanding the most attention are pollinators, a group that includes bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, ants and flies. Pollinators in Peril, a report prepared by the Center for Biological Diversity in 2017 found that 24% of native bees are imperiled and population declines are occurring in 52% of native bee species. In Illinois, the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network has found a 30% decline in butterfly abundance since 2000.

The spotlight has been on honeybees for years. It’s THE bee that comes to mind when discussing pollinator decline, likely due to their strong connection with people. Honeybees perform essential pollinator services for several food crops, they make honey and their picture has been featured on a popular breakfast cereal box until it was replaced by a ghost-like silhouette to highlight honeybee decline.

The honeybee’s celebrity has eclipsed the contributions native bees make to a healthy eco-system. The honeybee is distinctive in several ways, setting it apart from other bees. It is social, while most bees are solitary. It has been managed for so long, it’s typical home is a hive box; most native bees build modest nests in the ground or hollow stems and twigs.

We’re familiar with adult bees, tiny creatures flying from flower to flower but the majority of a bee’s life is spent out of sight, in a nest undergoing the early stages of its life cycle. The bee’s developmental stages are the same as a butterfly’s, an egg hatching into a larva (grub form), then pupating before becoming the adult we recognize.

Many pollinators have unique skills equipping them to perform specialized tasks required for pollinating certain types of plants. Tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, blueberries and cranberries have tightly packed pollen that isn’t readily accessible and needs to be released with a good shaking. Bumblebees clasp the flower then engage their flights muscles, producing a vibration strong enough to unleash the pollen. Called buzz pollination, honeybees are not capable of this particular pollinating technique.

Half-black bumble bee  photo by Carl Strang

Some pollinators, like the squash or cucurbit bee specialize in the pollen of a particular plant or family of plants. Illinois grows the majority of pumpkins in the US, a plant that relies heavily on pollinators. Maintaining a supply of Halloween pumpkins and pumpkin pie depends on a healthy population of squash bees.

All pollinators, all insects are necessary, they’re essential ingredients of the wondrous diversity of life that sustains us.

Pollinators Need our Help

Human activity has created the conditions negatively impacting insects. The causes are known, primarily loss of habitat, widespread pesticide usage and changing weather patterns. Each one of us can be part of the solution.

World renown biologist Jane Goodall said, “Only if we understand can we care. Only if we care will we help. Only if we help shall they be saved.”

Helping begins with understanding. One of the best ways of understanding the natural world is to spend time in it, looking closely, listening carefully, being curious, noting changes, asking questions and finding answers. Eric Simons, an editor for Bay Nature, a science magazine based in San Francisco says,

“You can go for a walk outside and just pay attention to what’s around you.” It sounds simple, but Simons says that noticing your surroundings is the first step to noticing changes. “The natural world needs witnesses, now more than ever.”

Your garden and yard are the closest places for observing and helping pollinators. Which trees, shrubs and flowers are hosting a lively gathering of insects? Are there different types of visitors, butterflies and bees or an assortment of bees?

Gardening practices make a difference.

From plant selection to tidiness, what you do in the garden can make it more inviting to pollinators.

A tidy garden erases many nesting sites. Skipping much of fall clean up and delaying spring clean up until it’s warm enough for bees to leave the nest are ways a garden becomes habitat.

Pollinators need nectar and pollen from early spring to late fall. Plan for a succession of blooming plants, including the native species many pollinators prefer.

Caterpillars can be picky eaters, some, like monarchs only eat one type of plant, milkweed. Swallowtail caterpillars eat fennel, parsley, dill and Queen Annes lace, all of which are excellent additions to ornamental and vegetable beds.   Additional host plants:

When replacing or adding trees and shrubs, keep pollinators in mind, some are more supportive of insects, like oaks, cherries and basswood.

Pesticides don’t just kill pests but beneficial insects as well. Minimize or eliminate pesticide applications in the yard and garden.

Support pesticide free agriculture by buying organic when possible.

Not a gardener? You can help by educating others, volunteering your time with local groups, donating to environmental organizations working on behalf of pollinators, and advocating for legislation protecting pollinators.


Girl Scouts Take Action for Monarchs

From lobbying to growing milkweed, Girl Scouts are learning how to help monarchs.   In 2017, two sixth grade members of the Pleasant Plains troop successfully lobbied their senators to co-sponsor a bill designating milkweed as the state wildflower. In 2019, a troop of mostly second grade scouts in Westmont learned how to grow milkweed and supported the work of DuPage Monarch Project with a $100 donation.

The girls make a charitable donation each year from the money earned by selling cookies. “One of the major themes taught through the Girl Scouts’ program is helping others,” said Sarah Plotnick-Anderson, one of the troops co-leaders.  “It’s part of the Girl Scout law which the girls recite at every meeting.” Past recipients have included the West Suburban Humane Society and Cosley Zoo.

Westmont Daisy Scouts selling cookies  (Photo by Jenny Shirley)

Co-leaders Jenny Shirley and Sarah Plotnick-Anderson offered the girls three organizations to choose from this year, Special Olympics, DuPage Monarch Project, and World Relief DuPage.

When asked why she voted to help monarchs, Aelyn replied, “They’re pretty and I like all creatures.  They deserve a life just like everyone.  Also, monarchs are my favorite bug.”

Raeleigh added, “Butterflies are pretty and I don’t want them to be extinct. They help pollinate flowers and plants too so if they are gone then we might not have food from these plants to eat.”

DuPage Monarch Project (DMP) was included in the mix because the leaders were looking for a conservation project that would be easy for the girls to replicate at home combined with an educational workshop on butterfly habitats.

Connie Schmidt presenting the monarch’s life cycle

At a meeting in May, DMP board member Connie Schmidt talked about the monarch’s life cycle, habitat requirements and demonstrated how to plant milkweed and nectar plant seeds.  Each scout took home an egg carton planted with seeds to nurture until they’re ready for transplanting outside, which will be just in time for hungry caterpillars and butterflies.

Growing Milkweed

Good news – milkweed is no longer on the Illinois Noxious Weeds List!

When I started growing common milkweed five or so years ago it was still on the list and people were not nice when I offered them free milkweed seeds. True, it is a sticky mess and would not be good to ingest or get in your eyes. A few National Geographic specials on the vanishing Monarch made my quest to give away free common milkweed seed a little easier. I would say, “Would you like some free milkweed seed?” And the person would say, “No.” Then I would say, “Did you know that it is the only plant that the Monarch butterfly will lay eggs on and the only plant that the larva will eat?” Suddenly, I had takers all around.


I need to give credit to Pat Miller for getting me started. She provided me with the first seed to give away and the seeds that were first planted in our vegetable/flower garden.

The other reason I wanted to grow milkweed was so I could raise monarchs to release. I needed milkweed so I could find the eggs and newly hatched larva to raise in a controlled environment as only one in ten eggs makes it to a butterfly in nature. I also need plenty of clean, unsprayed milkweed for feeding. I take the leaf off the plant that has the egg or the larva and use a floral tube to keep the leaf from drying out too fast. This is where things can get sticky! I need to move quickly as the stem of the leaf will seal from the “milk” and the leaf will dry out before the larva emerges. And try not to let the leaf drip on your clothes.


I have learned over a few seasons that less is more when it comes to milkweed. I love the aroma of common milkweed blooms and I do let some plants go to seed so that I have more to give out the following year. However, I take out some older plants and let new ones emerge as monarchs like young tender leaves for their eggs. In addition, I don’t want the milkweed over crowded and I don’t want “wilt” on the milkweed leaves or on any of my tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.

Milkweed doesn’t always cooperate by growing where I want it to grow, but I do try to keep it as a tall background plant for other natives like coneflower. We ring our vegetable garden with natives and it works out very well with the birds preferring the natives to the fruits of the plants we eat!

Growing milkweed and raising monarchs is a labor of love, but well worth the effort.

Judith Allyn Horsley has been a certified Master Naturalist since 2012.  She began distributing milkweed seeds in 2013 and has distributed over 2500 packets of common milkweed seed. She is a member of West Chicago’s America in Bloom committee, has taught monarch conservation at park district summer camps and is active with the Environmental Stewardship Committee at her church.


Guardians Glendale Heights

West Chicago to Celebrate the Monarch Butterfly through Art, Film, and History

Yearlong Schedule of events and activities to bring awareness, education and beauty to the community and beyond.

Frigid temperatures notwithstanding, West Chicago is embracing 2019 with sights set on celebrating the beauty and wonder of a small winged creature which will shortly be waking from its months-long hibernation in warmer climates and begin its journey to the western suburbs.

The Monarch butterfly’s wondrous migration and subsequent transformation has become something of a metaphor for the diverse community of West Chicago itself, which will be celebrating The Year of the Butterfly through an exciting calendar of programs and events.


Thanks to the support of the West Chicago Cultural Arts Commission, the West Chicago America in Bloom committee, and the many community partners including the West Chicago Garden Club, People Made Visible, the Green Disciples of the First United Methodist Church of West Chicago, Community High School District 94, the DuPage Monarch Project, Community School District 33, residents and Master Naturalists Michael and Judith Horsley, and many others, the City will provide education, art and greater awareness for Monarch conservation.

The cross-pollination of these group efforts will yield the following for the enjoyment of everyone in the community:

  • A free public screening of The Guardians, a Spanish-language documentary film with English subtitles, will be available to the public on Friday, May 17, 2019 at 7:00 p.m. at Gallery 200, 103 West Washington Street as part of Artéculture. The film is a visually dazzling meditation on the balance between humans and nature. The Guardians poetically interweaves the lives of the threatened Monarch butterfly with an indigenous community fighting to restore the forest they nearly destroyed. Shot over three years, this cinematic journey through the butterfly dense mountaintops of Michoacan Mexico, tells the intimate story of a unique community at the front lines of conservation. Additional showings at Gallery 200 of The Guardians may be arranged for interested groups over the course of the year. Also, the film will be made available to students and faculty of Community High School District 94, as they explore the subject in related Science classes, as well as at an evening showing for the general public on a date and time to be announced.


  • Blooming Fest, scheduled on Saturday, May 18, 2019 in downtown West Chicago from
    9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
    , will feature several opportunities to learn more about the Monarch from various environmental groups which will have booth spaces. Also, a special craft for children to create their own paper butterfly will be available at the City table on Main Street, and people of all ages will delight in becoming the center of larger-than-life butterfly wings. The photo opportunities of these interactive activities will provide great memories of The Year of the Butterfly.
  • The opening of a citywide public art project that celebrates the Monarch, also takes place in May. Its chosen title, The Butterfly Effect, is a reference to chaos theory and the phenomenon which occurs when a minute localized change in a complex system has large effects elsewhere. The concept holds a special significance for the Cultural Arts Commission, which sees a strong symbolic connection between Monarch migration and the migration of the diverse immigrant populations for adding beauty, value and history to the community. Through a collaborative effort between the West Chicago Cultural Arts Commission, the West Chicago Garden Club, People Made Visible and the West Chicago America in Bloom Committee, 29 artfully designed wooden butterflies will be installed in public gardens throughout the City, with an additional seven at the Kruse House Gardens. The butterflies, approximately three-feet high by four-feet wide will be designed by local artists and members of the Garden Club. An interactive map will be designed for use in locating each installation, making it easy for residents and visitors to spend a delightful afternoon visiting each site through the month of September.
  • Community arts not-for-profit People Made Visible will be coordinating a residential component of The Butterfly Effect for those wishing to create their own artful butterfly for use in the home garden. Smaller templates, available at a reasonable cost, will be available for purchase at Gallery 200, 103 West Washington Street during normal hours of operation, Thursdays from noon – 6:00 p.m.; Fridays from noon – 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.; and Sundays from noon – 4:00 p.m.
  • A new exhibit titled Home, which is scheduled to debut at the City Museum, 132 Main Street, on Saturday, May 18, 2019 and run through Saturday, April 18, 2020, will focus on an exploration of community, specifically as told through histories of people who currently call, or who have at one time called, West Chicago home. Additionally, select artifacts from the Museum’s collections will be incorporated in the exhibit. Chosen artists will work with Museum Director Sara Phalen and exhibit co-curator Anni Holm to create compelling original artwork that will be inspired by the stories of individuals’ journeys to and in the community. Like the indelible imprint of the Monarch population to the West Chicago environmental landscape, the unique stories of people who made a home in West Chicago will illustrate the profound ways in which they have contributed to the cultural landscape.

For more information about any of West Chicago’s The Year of the Butterfly events, programs, or activities, please contact Rosemary Mackey at, or (630) 293-2200 x139.

The Guardians: A Monarch Documentary

Join DuPage Monarch Project, Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, River Prairie Group of the Sierra Club, The Conservation Foundation, Wild Ones Greater DuPage Chapter and Warrenville Park District for a showing of The Guardians on February 20th, 7:00 pm at the Clifford Johnson School 2S700 Continental Drive, Warrenville.

A visually dazzling meditation on the balance between human and nature, The Guardians poetically interweaves the lives of the threatened monarch butterfly with an indigenous community fighting to restore the forest they nearly destroyed. Migrating 3,000 miles to hibernate in towering Oyamels, the monarch population faces collapse. When the directors started filming The Guardians in 2014, the monarch population hit an all-time record low of 33 million, down from 1 billion just twenty years prior. In the valley below, the people of Donaciano Ojeda struggle to support their families in their ancestral lands now part of the protected Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. Santos, a charismatic avocado farmer and Aristeo, a philosophical tree caretaker are the storytellers of the community as they confront internal divisions, illegal loggers and their own mortality. Shot over three years, this cinematic journey through the butterfly dense mountaintops of Michoacan tells an intimate story of a unique community at the front lines of conservation.

the guardians_poster warrenville

What has DuPage Monarch Project Been up to This Year?

AnnualReportCoverAnnualReportPage1Read the full report

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