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Monarch Butterflies 

From Michoacan to the Midwest


The Monarch butterfly – a symbol of renewal and rebirth – is a poignant metaphor for the flow of people and trade between Mexico and Illinois. For centuries, 300 million butterflies have made an annual migration between central Mexico and Canada, with one large migratory pattern traversing Illinois.

Most of the Monarchs begin their journey in the state of Michoacán, especially in the forests near Patzcuaro. It takes four generations to make the round-trip. Eco-tourism is booming throughout Mexico, and U.S. tourists are among the 120,000 visitors to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere each year. One town hosts a popular Monarch Festival in February.

Monarchs rely on milkweed for sustenance and to lay eggs. They consume a part of the plant that is toxic (to repel predators).

Illinois connections

Monarchs migrate northward over western Illinois, particularly Adams, Hancock and Henderson Counties. Their return trip cuts across the State in a southwesterly swath from Lake County to Metro East. Major sightings occur in DuPage, Livingston and Randolph Counties; there are dense roosting sites on farms and in forests between Pontiac and Kankakee.

In 1974, schoolchildren in Decatur began a campaign to name the Monarch Butterfly as the State Insect. The Illinois General Assembly approved it in 1975.


Over the past decade, the number of Monarchs making the trip has dropped significantly. According to a census conducted by World Wildlife Fund, the population has dropped by 59 percent in just one year!

There are several factors for the decline:

  1. Illegal logging in Mexico and less tree cover throughout the migration.
  2. Eco-tourism may be too successful.
  3. Low water levels in Northern Mexico streams.
  4. Wildfires in Texas which destroyed habitat.
  5. 2012 Drought in the Midwest, which destroyed habitat and milkweed.
  6. Herbicides used on genetically-engineered corn which destroy milkweed.


Mexico has cracked down on illegal logging, but loss of tree cover from Mexico to the Midwest remains a problem. Mexico has also reduced access to several of the colonies.

In Illinois, Governor Quinn has convened a Drought Task Force, is tackling climate change, and launched a $1 billion Clean Water Initiative to improve waterways and habitat.

Advocates for the Monarchs urge people to grow milkweed in their yards, and urge farmers to use herbicides which are less destructive to milkweed.