Saving the monarchy: How an Elk Grove Village man is working to help struggling butterflies
Ned Bruns has built a butterfly playground with a purpose in his Elk Grove Village backyard.
"The monarchs are in great decline," Bruns said in explaining that purpose. "Every (person) needs the pollinators to survive."
The retired carpenter has filled his suburban yard with flowers and valuable milkweed plants, the only place monarch butterflies lay their eggs, in an effort to help reverse decline.
Bruns walks a boardwalk between his gardens every day to harvest the tiny eggs and raise them into adult butterflies that he releases into the wild. He said that while an egg in the wild has a 5% chance of survival, he can produce results far better than Mother Nature.
"I can get 75 to 80% maturing to butterflies," Bruns said. "If I can get an egg maturing to a butterfly, more than likely it would have died in nature. And now those monarchs are making more eggs."
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, pollinators like the colorful monarch are vital to human survival because 80% of the crops that produce our food need to be pollinated by insects and other animals. Monarchs could be on the brink of extinction, according to a University of Arizona study this year.
Bruns has been parenting the eggs into adulthood since 2017, when he raised 17 monarch butterflies in his sunroom. The following year, his garden club meeting was visited by Carol Johnson, a Schaumburg resident who spearheaded a community initiative to increase the butterfly population at the Schaumburg Park District's Spring Valley Nature Center.
That Monarch Butterfly Initiative is still an active group that educates people about the monarch and its reliance on milkweed plants, and teaches them how to establish a butterfly garden of their own. Several waystations featuring milkweed and other butterfly-friendly plants are now growing at the nature center, 1111 E. Schaumburg Road in Schaumburg.
Bruns spent six to eight hours every day last summer collecting eggs, waiting for caterpillars to eat their way out and grow for 10 to 14 days. The creatures then formed a chrysalis in the homemade, recyclable, condominium-style containers in his sunroom. After another 10 days, the instantly recognizable orange and black monarch butterfly emerges.
Bruns also spends a lot of time disinfecting his equipment and environments with a bleach solution in an effort to eliminate a deadly parasite that is ravaging the monarch population across North America.
He's handed out $200 in milkweed plants to friends and neighbors, and raised and released 657 monarch butterflies last year alone, his most successful season so far.
He even visited Elk Grove Mayor Craig Johnson with a plan.
"I put a monarch on his finger," Bruns said. "This year, they decided to (install) 10 pollinator gardens (around village hall)."
Bruns said milkweed plants are being eliminated by suburban development and points to a nearby housing development as an example. The builder removed thousands of milkweed plants during the project, and only evergreens were planted when the work was completed.
"It's not helping the environment by planting evergreens and a couple of bushes. I mean there's no pollinator that's going to an evergreen to eat," he said. "My target is to get more milkweed, more flowering plants out, even if they use a less desirable area for them landscape wise. I try to educate people about milkweed and they start to notice it. They'll tell me how they're seeing it in their travels. I see where it isn't and I wonder why not."
Bruns has visited the gardens around Elk Grove's Charles J. Zettek Municipal Complex several times this summer with a collection of his babies in a screened cage.
"I show as many people as possible my passion to raise pollinators," he said. "I hope my efforts, along with those of others, will help them be around for our future generations."
To learn more about monarch butterflies, go to monarchwatch.org.