Monarchs, Migration & Milkweed

(Clockwise) Monarch caterpillar, Monarch chrysalis and Monarch butterfly.
(Clockwise) Monarch caterpillar, Monarch chrysalis and Monarch butterfly.

By Kait Chapman, Extension Educator in Lancaster County

The sight of a monarch butterfly flying around one’s house or visiting one’s flowers, brings joy to many Nebraskans. Every year, these large butterflies undertake a spectacular and long migration spanning Canada, the United States and Mexico. Monarchs are the only butterfly known to travel such a far distance to reach their southern destination for the winter. Once south, the butterflies lay eggs, and it’s the new generations that hatch, undergo metamorphosis and begin the journey back north. In Nebraska, we begin to see adult monarchs on their flight sometime in May. The adults will stop at flowers to feed on nectar and provide pollination services to plants.

While monarch butterflies are a beautiful sight to behold, their numbers have been declining. While not currently listed as threatened or endangered, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service describes the monarch as a “candidate species” due to loss of habitat and their host plant, milkweed. Milkweeds in the genus Asclepias are the only plants the colorful monarch caterpillars can eat and are also where the adult butterflies lay their eggs. Once the caterpillars are fully developed, they will travel to a secure location away from their host plant to pupate and form a brilliant green chrysalis.

As Nebraskans, we can help monarch butterfly populations by planting milkweeds and reducing the amount of pesticides we use in our landscapes. Not only are milkweed plants a source of food for monarch caterpillars, but they’re also native, low-maintenance, attract many other beneficial pollinators and are home to some other unique and beautiful insects.

For more information on monarch butterflies in Nebraska and ways to get involved in monarch conservation, visit the Nebraska Game and Parks resources at