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Chicago Museums Helping To Save Endangered Monarch Butterflies

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Sometimes the Morning Insiders find stories in the strangest of spots, like literally landing on them.

CBS 2's Vince Gerasole found that out when a butterfly landed on his jacket, and didn't leave for more than half an hour. It got him curious about where butterflies live in the Chicago area, and efforts to help them thrive.

The red admiral butterfly stayed on Gerasole's jacket all over River North, including during a car ride to a coffee shop, where he finally flew into the rafters.

Doug Taron, chief curator at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, said red admiral butterflies have an affinity for plants, and probably stayed on Gerasole's jacket for so long because it was feeding on salt particles on the fabric.

"It was eating your jacket, yeah," he said.

Taron said salt helps male red admiral butterflies boost their fertility.

"Typically, they're not using somebody's outerwear, they're using mud puddles," he said.

If you venture over to the Field Museum of Natural History, you might find another butterfly, the endangered monarch, hovering over the milkweed in its prairie gardens. The milkweed was planted there intentionally to try and boost the monarch population.

"Their population has decreased almost 80% over the last 20 years," said Abigail Derby Lewis, a senior conservation ecologist at the Field Museum.

The decline in the monarch butterfly population is linked, in part, to the disappearance of once plentiful milkweed plants, which are crucial to their life cycle.

"The milkweed family is the only plant females can lay their eggs on," Lewis said.

In new research, Lewis has found planting 1.8 billion milkweed stems across the country could help save the monarchs. City dwellers planting milkweed in their yards, parks, and vacant lots could play a bigger role than once thought in restoring the monarch population.

"Of that national goal of 1.8 billion, it turns out cities east of the Rocky Mountains can get 30% toward the national goal," she said. "That's huge, considering cities are only 3% of the U.S. land mass."

The Field Museum has created a guide to help people in the Midwest create monarch butterfly habitats in their yards. You don't need a lot of space for them, as most milkweeds can thrive in containers placed on balconies, patios, or front walks.

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is also helping to increase the monarch population, offering more than 200 workshops every year to teach thousands of people about the importance of creating monarch habitats.

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