The monarch butterfly is an iconic insect, known for its stunning orange and black wings and impressive long migratory journey from Mexico to Canada. The monarch plays an invaluable role in the ecosystem as a pollinator. Many pollinators, including the monarch butterfly, are in trouble. Monarch populations have decreased by 80 percent over the past two decades. Part of this population loss can be attributed to the drastic decline of monarch habitat—milkweed host plants and nectar food sources—throughout North America.

Preserving monarchs and their remarkable migration requires creating and protecting habitats crucial for the monarch throughout its life cycle. It requires an “all hands on deck” conservation strategy that relies on all land use types to provide monarch habitat. Four out of five Americans live in large metropolitan areas, and these urban lands teem with innovative and effective local-scale monarch recovery efforts. The role cities can play in monarch recovery—and in providing habitat for pollinators and other wildlife—is more important than previously recognized. In fact, a large metropolitan region such as Chicago has over 16 million stems of milkweed already on the ground, and through strategic outreach with different land users, that number could jump to over 38 million stems. While the prospects for adding milkweed stems will vary from city to city, the potential is there for cities to make a difference in monarch conservation. 

Many people are taking action to help the monarch butterfly and everyone can play a part. We can improve conditions to bring back the monarch by growing the plants monarchs need to survive, including milkweed—the only plant on which monarchs can lay their eggs and that monarch caterpillars can eat—and other native flowers that provide nectar for the butterfly throughout the growing season. Milkweed and native flowers can be planted in home gardens and in natural areas around schools, offices, parks, transportation corridors, and farms.

A caterpillar hanging from a leaf.

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed plant.

Zach Paolillo

What can you do to help monarchs?

Individuals and Communities

The Museum has created a Rapid Color Guide to help residents in the Midwest create monarch habitats in their yards. If you live in a city, you might feel like you don't have the space to plant habitat for monarchs, but every milkweed stem makes a difference—you don’t need a big yard to have big impact. Most milkweeds will even do well in containers on a balcony or in a shared outdoor space like a patio or front walk. Consider planting these five types of milkweed and explore container planting options. On our blog, learn how to build a monarch garden in your yard or community space.

Governments and Organizations

The Keller Science Action Center partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives to answer some key questions about how best to conserve monarchs in urban areas along the monarch's migration flyway that connects the butterflies' overwintering sites in central Mexico to the landscapes of the Upper Midwest. The Keller Science Action Center worked closely with four urban areas along the central flyway: Chicago, St. Paul-Minneapolis, Kansas City, and Austin. Within each urban area, Field Museum scientists collaborated with local organizations to identify the amount and types of potential habitat (from residential backyards to turf-dominated corporate campuses), how much of this green space is likely to be converted, and best practices for engaging different stakeholder groups to increase the overall amount of habitat.

These collaborations resulted in the creation of two mapping tools to help municipalities set goals and priorities for establishing monarch habitat. The first is the Urban Milkweed Baseline Tool which provides an estimate of existing milkweed density and stem count for a metropolitan area. The second is the interactive Urban Scenario Planning Tool which allows users to model anticipated increases in milkweed density and total stem count for any sub-geography based on user scenarios across land-use types. Explore these tools below.

You can encourage your city to be more involved in monarch conservation by signing the Mayors Monarch Pledge.

You can also help record where monarch habitat is present by documenting milkweeds and other nectar plants using iNaturalist.

The Museum is leading by example, planting a monarch habitat as part of its new Rice Native Gardens, which will showcase many of the species that monarchs need to survive and reproduce.

Learn more about monarch butterflies 

Learn about an ancient Mexican monarch legend with our Monarch Book and Monarch Coloring Book. This project was created through a partnership between The Field Museum and U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chicago Field Office.

If you are interested in learning more about monarch conservation and ways to get involved, please visit Monarch Joint Venture.

To learn more about monarch biology visit the Monarch Lab at the University of Minnesota. To learn more about monarch migration and citizen science visit Monarch Watch.

We welcome your questions regarding The Field Museum's monarch conservation work. Contact us at monarchs@fieldmuseum.org.

Urban Monarch Conservation Guidebook and Tools

The Keller Science Action Center partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives to produce the Urban Monarch Conservation Guidebook and Tools. 

Urban Monarch Conservation Guidebook

Cities are large, diverse, complicated places that can be difficult to neatly summarize. Monarch recovery efforts vary in scale from backyards and schoolyards to large prairie restorations. The Urban Monarch Conservation Guidebook maps the city from a monarch's point of view, in a way that ultimately stitches these pieces together into an overall strategy and helps cities set priorities and goals for monarch recovery. Download the guidebook and appendices.

Urban Monarch Conservation Tools

The amount of land that could be monarch habitat varies widely across metropolitan areas and across land use categories within metropolitan areas. Only a very small percentage of land available for urban monarch habitat currently contains milkweed. The potential for increasing milkweed stems in urban landscapes is enormous and depends on engaging different audiences in each land use category. These tools and manual are made available to the public with an intended audience of municipal and regional planning agencies, major landowners, and federal, state, and not-for-profit conservation organizations interested in pollinator habitat in urban areas.

The Keller Science Action Center conducted its study with support from USFWS and local partners across four major metropolitan areas along the monarch migratory route: Chicago, St. Paul-Minneapolis, Kansas City, and Austin. Users have the option of downloading customized versions of the tools developed for each of these metropolitan areas, or they can download a generic template that can be applied to other metropolitan areas. Please consider downloading the manual first. 

**Note the Monarch Conservation tools are in DRAFT form**

Urban Monarch Guidebook and Appendices

Urban Monarch Conservation Tools Manual

Watch and download Urban Monarch Webinar

Download Chicago Tools

Download Minneapolis-St. Paul Tools

Download Kansas City Tools

Download Austin Tools

Download Generic Template

Sign up to receive email updates about the Urban Monarch Conservation Tools.