The Butterfly Project
By Patrick Butler
Lots of people talk about saving the environment, but Aviva Lerner has been doing it one butterfly at a time.
For the past year, the Bell Street artist and former director of the Lill Street Gallery has been joining a growing number of quiet activists determined to save the vanishing Monarch butterfly.
“I remember seeing them everywhere when I was a kid growing up in Waukegan. In the past few years, I started hearing lot of people talking about how they’re disappearing,” she said.
The once-ubiquitous Illinois state insect has been evaporating in recent years, partly because of polluting garden chemicals and partly because there’s often not enough Milkweed on hand, Lerner explained.
Like some other insect species, Monarchs can’t survive without Milkweed. In fact, they need it to lay their eggs, said Lerner, who’s been creating a milkweed garden in her back yard.
Monarchs lay their eggs on the milkweed leaves where the eggs grow into caterpillars, which in turn transform into butterflies, she said.
According to some experts, the number of Monarch butterflies has dwindled to maybe half of what it was 40 years ago. And the amount of Milkweed habitat acreage in Illinois has gone from 45 acres in 1993 to 1.65 acres today, Lerner said.
But a lot could change if enough people started planting Milkweed and providing a place for Monarchs to grow – and go on to the next step of their journey, said Lerner.
She sees her garden – and others like it – as way stations for the Monarchs as they make their annual round trip from Mexico to Canada. En route, “the butterflies lay their eggs, die, and four new generations are born. Three or four days after they’re born, they find a mate an hang out together for about 16 hours. An adult female can lay up to 700 eggs. About 10 days after laying their eggs, they’re dead,” Lerner said.
They’re the quintessential “live fast, die young” crowd, she agreed.
While nurturing future monarchs involves a little work, the payoff’s well worth it, said Lerner. “Sitting in my backyard, I have this fantastic world around me most people don’t know exists.”
Interested? For openers, Lerner suggests calling the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Monarch Butterfly page or Monarchwatch.org, or livemonarchs.com.