Gerriann Gerritsen of Huntley has released more than 300 butterflies that she has raised this year. She’s currently releasing the last of her butterflies.
“This is so sad,” Gerritsen said after releasing some butterflies Wednesday. “I can’t believe I let them go.”
Gerritsen began raising butterflies last year, but it wasn’t her first foray into raising them.
Gerritsen said she raised butterflies 30 years ago with her daughter, Lexi Oldenburg, who last year decided to raise butterflies with her children.
Oldenburg said she didn’t remember raising butterflies with her mother, but decided to do a butterfly unit with her children, two of whom she homeschools.
She didn’t want to purchase a butterfly kit, but found some Monarchs in the front yard by the milkweed plants there.
Oldenburg, who did not raise butterflies this year, said her children initially were interested in raising butterflies but the interest faded over time. Oldenburg also found the time commitment for raising butterflies was too much.
“It started getting more overwhelming,” Oldenburg said. “It’s like having a dog.”
Even though she had raised butterflies before, Gerritsen found some challenges and a learning curve in raising them in 2022.
“Learning how to feed them was exhausting,” Gerritsen said. “You found out what works and what doesn’t work.”
Gerritsen said she had about 25 butterflies to release in early September 2022 and didn’t want to release them in McHenry County, feeling like it was too cold for the butterflies.
She happened to be heading to Springfield for a meeting, and said she had to release them in the state of Illinois.
Before heading to the state capital, she reached out to churches and school groups, among other people, to see if she could give them butterflies to release.
She connected with a hotel worker, whose sister had a colleague who was a teacher and who had raised butterflies in the classroom before. Gerritsen gave her the butterflies and the teacher sent photos when she released them.
The monarch butterfly, Illinois’ state insect since 1975, is not quite endangered. But there aren’t as many as there once were.
“The numbers are down,” Carol Elkins, an ambassador for the Xerces Society, said. “Everyone wants to be hopeful.”
Melissa Clark, senior public affairs specialist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, said the monarch butterfly is not currently on the endangered or threatened list, but the monarch population is decreasing and the agency plans to make an announcement on the status of the monarch in fall 2024.
Clark added the monarch is well-known for its migration pattern, where butterflies start in Mexico, move into Texas and reproduce. Those butterflies move a little farther north and reproduce, and the cycle repeats until the butterflies reach the northern United States and Canada. Those are the butterflies that then fly back to Mexico in the winter. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife website adds that monarchs in the western United States tend to spend winters in California.
More locally, Elkins is concerned that pesticides used in lawns is hurting butterflies.
“Reducing pesticides and herbicides is really important,” Elkins said. “Finding pesticide-free plants is really difficult for them.”
Gerritsen said she will catch a lot of butterflies in her yard, but tries to get them as eggs because she said eggs tend to be disease-free.
“If I can get them at the egg stage, I’m ahead of the game,” Gerritsen said.
Gerritsen also said she is worried about pesticides in lawns and said that residents can help monarch butterflies by planting certain plants in their home gardens. Bee balm, zinnias, firecracker cigars, Mexican sunflowers, delphiniums and fox gloves were the flowers Gerritsen said were good for butterflies, and added they are aesthetically pleasing.
“These are all pretty flowers,” Gerritsen said.
Clark added that planting flowers that bloom at different times of the year can help not only butterflies, but other pollinating animals that need nectar.
“They are just a wonderful symbol of pollinator conservation,” Clark said.