The more you learn about the Monarch butterfly, the more fascinating they become.

The lovely lepidopteras make a yearly trip between Canada and Mexico with some long rests along the way.

There are plenty of documentaries out there chronicling this epic continental journey. My personal favorite is a NOVA episode from 2011 titled The Incredible Journey of the Butterflies. It isn't available on YouTube, but you might be able to grab it off your cable service.

Here are some other great sources on this incredible insect.

We here in Illinois get 4 distinct generations of butterflies in our state every year. - The first generation is born when overwintering monarchs return to lay eggs on milkweeds in late April or May.  Two more generations occur over summer with a lifespan of about 2-6 weeks each.  The final generation, born around September, migrates to Mexico as fall weather begins to cool.

The first "overwintering" generation of Monarchs should be popping up anytime now in Illinois.

Like other pollinators, and just as mysteriously to scientists, the Monarch population has been dropping over the last decade. And just like those other pollinators, losing them would be a disaster for the ecosystem.

So what can you do in Illinois to help these guys eventually make some great-grandkids to send off to Mexico?

Plant some milkweed in your yard.

Monarchs are to milkweed as pandas are to bamboo. But monarchs are possibly even more dependent on milkweed. Not only is it all the butterfly eats, but it is also the only place where they'll lay their eggs and it's all the emerging caterpillar will eat.

Unfortunately, a lot of the milkweed that is native to Illinois has been lost to development or just people wanting to get rid of a weed in their yard.

So help out the butterflies, plant some milkweed in your yard, or just don't kill the plants that are already there, and enjoy some beautiful guests to your yard this summer.

LOOK: Stunning animal photos from around the world

From grazing Tibetan antelope to migrating monarch butterflies, these 50 photos of wildlife around the world capture the staggering grace of the animal kingdom. The forthcoming gallery runs sequentially from air to land to water, and focuses on birds, land mammals, aquatic life, and insects as they work in pairs or groups, or sometimes all on their own.



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