The grasshopper pictured above is feasting on nectar from the American Burnett flower. Later the flowerhead turns color and camouflages it. In winter the umbrella shape of the leaves provide air pockets to help insulate its eggs in the soil from the harshest winters.
The Monarch population fell to a record low in the winter of 2013. This winter it fell 56% more. The monarch combined winter population total was only 1.65 acres. The number of monarchs visiting Illinois has declined each of the past two years; expect difficulty in sighting them in 2014.
What can you do to help the monarchs? You can not only plant pollinators so they have food; you can also plant milkweed to provide the nursery for their next-gen of young. The few species of milkweed are the only plant that monarchs will lay their eggs on. Pictured below is a monarch laying an egg on a marsh milkweed plant (Asclepia incarnata) in a DuPage yard:
Read about the 2014 population here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/30/us/monarch-butterflies-falter-under-extreme-weather.html?ref=michaelwines&_r=1 Remember, by planting milkweed you can do something yourself to help nature and the monarchs. What you do in your yard matters.
Monarch butterfly web tutorial is a 57 minute tutorial on monarchs.
In Spring they also enjoy sipping from the Columbine flower (close-up below)
Hummingbirds especially enjoy summer nectar from red Lobelia, the Cardinal Flower, pictured below:
In mid-summer they prefer Jewelweed which is yellow.
Research by Dr. Doug Tallamy PhD, author of Bringing Nature Home, rates the Oak trees as best at supporting the most (534) species of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths).
Native plants are nature’s birdfeeders; providing seeds and the insects these plants lure as fly-thru protein snacks. Native plants are also nature’s butterfly feeders. And insect feeders. These wildflowers have been providing food for wildlife here for thousands of years. Our wildlife have adapted to these American plants. They now need them for food.
Non-native plants, by contrast, do not fit in to the web of life as a food source. The worst culprit in our area is buckthorn. It releases a chemical (emodin) into the soil which runs off into wetlands and kills amphibian (think frogs) embryos. It also leafs out early in spring and stays leafed longer into the fall, robbing native plants of their needed sunlight. The food producing native plants then disappear from under the buckthorn, taking their forest flowers with them. Buckthorn also harms birds that eat the buckthorn berry by causing diarrhea when these avians should be storing energy ahead of their migrations. See: http://phys.org/news/2013-05-scientific-reveal-midwestern-frogs-decline.html
Planting the right plants lets you fill a shopping cart of food for nature. Many of these right plants are also pleasingly beautiful. Your yard can become an island habitat providing this food as a refuge in a sea of mowed lawns.
Nature is something you can build, enjoy and share when you Join Wild Ones!