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What Is the State Insect of Illinois? Symbolism & History

monarch butterfly

Illinois may be known as a flat prairie land that mostly produces corn, but this state actually has rich biodiversity and is home to over 20,000 different insect species¹. Amongst the numerous insects, the Monarch Butterfly was officially named the official state insect in 1975.

This bright and vibrant butterfly is well-known throughout the world. Despite its tiny size, it makes a huge impact on the environment. Let’s get to know the beautiful Monarch Butterfly and how this humble insect became a state symbol.

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How Monarch Butterflies Became the Illinois State Insect

The Monarch Butterfly caught the eye of a third-grade class at the Dennis Lab School in Decatur. This class wrote to its state representative, Webber Borchers, with a proposal to make the Monarch Butterfly the official state insect. Representative Webber Borchers presented a bill to the Illinois State Senate, and the bill passed in October 1975.

The students of this very same class got to watch Governor Daniel Walker sign the bill into law. The south wing of the Dennis Lab School’s library was named the “Monarch Wing,” and a large ceramic butterfly painted by the students was installed in 1986.

The Monarch Butterfly is also the official state insect for six other states:
monarch butterfly
Image Credit: Yolanda, Pixabay

Where to Find Monarch Butterflies

Despite being Illinois’ state insect, Monarch Butterflies aren’t permanent residents. Most live at the east of the Rocky Mountains and fly through Illinois as they make their 2,000-mile migration journey to central Mexico for the winter. Monarch Butterflies that live in the west often winter along the coast of Monterey, California.

It can take up to three to five generations of Monarch Butterflies to complete their migration journey. the adult Monarch Butterflies reach sexual maturity around the time their migration begins. Females will find milkweed plants along their migration journey and will die shortly afterward. The eggs will hatch, and once the caterpillars become butterflies, they’ll continue their parents’ journey.

Some of the best places to view large populations of Monarch Butterflies are in butterfly sanctuaries¹ located in California and Mexico. However, you can still spot them in Illinois during migration season.

Monarch Butterflies start arriving in Illinois around May. They’ll stay throughout the summer, and sightings will dwindle in October as they migrate. Based on their long migration route, it’s no surprise that these butterflies are hardy and tough. You can find them almost anywhere, like prairies, marshes, urban gardens, and roadsides.

Monarch Look-Alikes

Just keep in mind that there are a few look-alike species that mimic the appearance of the Monarch Butterfly. Monarch Butterflies are poisonous, and many animals will go out of their way to avoid eating them.

Some insect species have evolved to develop a similar color and pattern to trick predator animals, even though they’re not poisonous.

The following butterfly species very closely resemble the Monarch Butterfly:
  • Viceroy Butterfly
  • Queen Butterfly
  • Soldier Butterfly

True Monarch Butterflies have the most vibrant orange out of these species, and the Queen Butterfly and Soldier Butterfly have a brownish hue blended into their wings. The Viceroy Butterfly looks the most like the Monarch Butterfly, but it has an additional black band running across its lower wings, while the Monarch Butterfly doesn’t.

monarch butterfly on a flower
Image By: bbarlow, Pixabay

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The Monarch Butterfly’s Impact

Illinoisans can be proud to call the Monarch Butterfly their official state insect for several reasons. First, they’re efficient pollinators that help many different ecosystems thrive. While caterpillars only eat milkweed, adult Monarch Butterflies consume flower nectar from a wide variety of plant species. As they drink nectar, they pick up pollen and help distribute it to other flowers.

Monarch Butterflies are also an important part of their natural food chain. While they’re poisonous, some species can still eat them. Natural predators include various species of spiders, fire ants, and wasps. These insects often eat eggs and attack larvae. The absence of Monarch Butterflies would cause the loss of a significant link in the food chain and cause other species to suffer.

Lastly, Monarch Butterflies have made a strong cultural impact in many countries, particularly Mexico. Cultural celebrations and songs are dedicated to these butterflies. There are also many legends and myths of Monarch Butterflies being tied to the souls of ancestors as they often return to Mexico around the same time as Día de Los Muertos¹ (Day of the Dead).

How to Attract Monarch Butterflies

The Monarch Butterfly population is facing an unfortunate decline due to environmental factors, like deforestation and climate change. In the summer of 2022, the International Union for Conservation of Nature¹ (IUCN) added the Monarch Butterfly to its endangered species list.

One way to help the Monarch Butterfly population and attract them to your yard is to plant milkweed. Milkweed is a critical piece to the butterfly’s survival because the larvae only eat this plant. Before you plant any milkweed, make sure you buy a native species, as tropical milkweed may negatively impact¹ the Monarch Butterfly’s migration.

You can also plant flowers that attract butterflies. Butterflies are attracted to particular types of flowers and often land on flowers with vibrant petals. The Butterfly Bush is a flowering plant species that all butterflies love, but it’s extremely hardy and can quickly outgrow a garden.

Here are some more manageable flowers that will attract Monarch Butterflies:
  • Clove Pink
  • Cornflower
  • Daylily
  • Globe Thistle
  • Goldenrod
  • Hollyhock
  • Lavender
  • Marigold
  • Privet
  • Yarrow
monarch butterfly on a flower
Image By: ulleo, Pixabay

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The Monarch Butterfly is an impressive species with the longest known migration journey out of all insects. They can be seen in Illinois from spring to summer, and you can plant milkweed and vibrant flowers to attract them to your garden. Creating rest stops for Monarch Butterflies will help them immensely, and in turn, these beautiful butterflies will continue to revisit your home year after year.

Featured Image Credit: gyulche1, Pixabay


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