The Monarch Restoration Program


The Prairie Sky Monarch Program was created in 2016 to foster and support monarch butterflies as they pass through SW Wisconsin. We are a non-profit (501 C-3) research and education organization that uses the monarch (Danaus plexippus) as an educational model for learning more about plant and animal relationships. In addition, we study its unique behavior and follow its phenomenal migration patterns to the coast of California and to the Transverse Neovolcanic Belt of Mountains west of Mexico City.

We study the behavior and biology of various native butterflies in our Butterfly Vivarium, conduct field trips in our classroom, cultivate plants in a greenhouse, rear butterfly livestock, and hold special events. Our activities in the field include monitoring overwintering habitats, tracking tagged monarchs, monitoring spring and summer milkweed colonies, and studying a variety of butterfly species and their host plants.

The decreasing monarch population has ignited concern across the country and many people are working to conserve this iconic species through actions like planting milkweed and nectar sources, limiting pesticide use, and engaging communities through educational efforts. Another great way to get involved is to join a citizen science project, and help to inform future priorities for monarch conservation across the United States.

Monarch mortality in the wild can reach 98%, and many monarch supporters save individual monarchs by bringing them indoors to raise them. While we recommend habitat restoration and enhancement as the most important actions you can take to ensure that the wild monarchs that do survive to adulthood have abundant and high quality habitat on which to reproduce or fuel for their migration, we also recognize that raising monarchs collected from the wild builds strong connections between people and monarchs. If you enjoy rearing monarchs, please use this activity to further our understanding of monarchs through citizen science. 

Participating in the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project’s (MLMP) rearing study (Activity 3) is easy! If you are already conducting weekly site monitoring for MLMP and reporting your observations, you can collect and rear late (4th and 5th) instars from your site and report the fate of these monarchs in Activity 3. If you collect earlier instars make sure to note this in the Site Information section. If you don’t have a regular monitoring site, or if you collect monarchs for somewhere other than your site, you can still submit your data on survival rates to us.  For these monarchs, just make sure to record as much information as possible about when, where, and at what stage you collected them. There is a section to report these in your MLMP profile called Parasitism (monarchs from other locations). 

Additionally, we encourage you to test any of the monarchs that emerge as adults for the OE parasite for Project Monarch Health, and tag any late summer monarchs through Monarch Watch (eastern monarchs), the Southwest Monarch Study (southwest monarchs), or Monarch Alert (CA monarchs). The data you submit are invaluable to our understanding of this butterfly, and will inform nation-wide restoration goals.

If you are passionate about rearing monarchs and want to ensure future generations are able to experience the joy that accompanies witnessing such a stunning natural phenomenon, join the army of citizen scientists working towards the conservation of the monarch butterfly!

The Monarch Butterfly

The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is the most well known butterfly in North America. It’s large size with brilliant orange, black, and white colors are impressive. More importantly, their majestic flight and migration behavior has intrigued scientists for more than a century. In W.J. Holland’s publication “The Butterfly Book” (1898) he stated that “It is not believed that any of them hibernate in any stage of their existence.” It was not until 1975 that one of the central Mexico overwintering sites was discovered and a tagged monarch from Ontario, Canada was found. This discovery proved that monarchs can travel great distances and hibernate (diapause) as adult butterflies. At the same time, California coastal overwintering sites were being discovered and recorded.

The common name monarch was first published by the naturalist and lepidopterist Samuel H. Scudder in 1874 because “It is one of the largest of our butterflies, and rules a vast domain.” The species Danaus plexippus may be found on several continents and countries other than North America, including New Zealand, Australia, Canary Islands, United Kingdom, Hawaii, and Cuba. Today the monarch butterfly is the Official State Butterfly (or insect) in seven States: Alabama (1989), Idaho (1992), Illinois (1975), Minnesota (2000), Texas (1995), Vermont (1987), and West Virginia (1995).

The earliest record of overwintering monarchs on the coast of California is from 1869 in Monterey County. People probably did not notice monarchs roosting during the winter before the arrival of eucalyptus trees in the early 1850’s because they were greatly camouflaged on native tree leaves in remote areas; especially western sycamore (Platanus racemosa), Torrey pine (Pinus torreyana), Monterey pine (Pinus radiata), and Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa). In 1904, entomologist V.L. Kellog was the first person to infer that monarchs migrate in California.

In the 1920’s eucalyptus trees were well established along the coast of California as ornamentals and windbreaks. They became the favored roosting trees for monarchs because of the protection they provided from rain, wind, and chilling temperatures. By 2011, more than 210 coastal sites from Mendocino County to south of Ensenada, B.C., Mexico, have been recorded and more are discovered every season. At least 80% of these sites are eucalyptus groves.