Nature Rambles | Monitoring for declining pollinators

Monarch Butterfly caterpillar

A Monarch Butterfly caterpillar feeds on the leaves of Swamp Milkweed in Donovan Park’s butterfly planting. (PHOTO BY MIKE MILLER)

In 2015, the Pollinator Research Action Plan was released outlining the decline in pollinating insects and the challenges faced in stabilizing and enhancing populations of these beneficial insects. The findings and solutions outlined in this report have become known as the “All Hands-on-Deck” strategy. We need to learn all we can about declining pollinator species, what their habitat needs are, how much their populations are declining and be able to document what works as we deploy recovery efforts.



Last year, the Rusty Patch Bumble Bee became the very first species of native bumble bee to be listed as a federally endangered species. What was once a common species in our backyards has seen an 87 percent decline in population over the last 20 years. It now stands on the brink of extinction. This loss has happened so fast that the scientific community is scrambling to document the causes of the decline and how to develop a recovery strategy. Central Illinois is one of the last refuges for this beneficial insect, and the Unites States Fish and Wildlife Service could use our help in getting a handle on local populations of Rusty Patch Bumble Bees.

If you are interested in learning more about the identification of native bees and what you can do to enhance habitat for pollinators, we invite you to a workshop from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, July 28 at the Peoria Park District’s Tawny Oaks Field Station. Presentations will cover: native bee ecology, life history, sampling techniques and photography and efforts to conserve native bee species, including the Rusty Patch. If you are a landowner that has pollinator habitat and would like to learn how to identify and search for Rusty Patch Bumble Bee, this workshop is for you.

Another species of concern that is featured in the Pollinator Research Action Plan is the Monarch butterfly. In the last 20 years, there has been an 80 percent decline in the population of Monarch butterflies. This decline has been so drastic, that the USFWS is reviewing whether the species should be listed as a federally endangered species. That listing decision will take place by June of 2019.

You are probably familiar with the Monarch’s migratory habits. Monarchs over-winter in the mountainous regions of central Mexico. In the spring, these butterflies fly north into Texas in March and produce a new generation that moves further north into our region. They then produce another generation that moves further north into the upper Midwest. Those Monarchs will produce another generation that will fly back to Mexico to overwinter, starting the whole migratory cycle over again. It is an annual migration that takes four generations to complete.

Many butterflies have particular species that their caterpillars will eat. The Monarch caterpillars will only feed on milkweed. Needless to say, any Monarch species recovery plan will need to include getting to know all we can about milkweed. The USFWS has set a goal of having 225 million Monarch butterflies survive and get to the wintering grounds in Mexico. To accomplish this, it is estimated that we need 1.8 billion additional milkweed plants in the migratory range of Monarchs to provide adequate food. That is a lot of milkweed!

In order to get good baseline information, the Peoria Park District has teamed up with the Field Museum of Natural History to deploy a monitoring strategy to understand the densities of milkweed in our urban areas and how much potential there is for increasing milkweed populations. The Field Museum will be conducting a workshop and sharing session on how communities can improve Monarch habitat through land-use planning. If you are interested in being involved, are already enhancing habitat for Monarchs or are part of our urban land-use planning community, we want to hear from you. The workshop will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, July 24 at the Peoria Park District’s Tawny Oaks Field Station.

To find out more information or to register for either of these free workshops, call or email me at the following:
Mike Miller

Mike Miller

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