Senior studies insects’ impacts on monarch population

Justyna Kruczalak isn’t afraid of bugs.

In fact, she spent her summer studying them and plans to make a career out of it.

Kruczalak explores milkweed at the Forest Preserve District in DuPage County in Illinois.
Kruczalak explores milkweed at the Forest Preserve District in DuPage County, Illinois.

“I hope to do fieldwork as an entomologist,” Kruczalak said. “My summer research taught me to set a maintained pace when collecting data.”

The senior majoring in biology and environmental studies conducted independent research with Associate Professor of Biology Tammy Mildenstein as her mentor. Mildenstein has long been interested in monarchs and has worked with students for several years to understand the loss of prairies and the connection between the resulting reduction in milkweeds and the disappearance of the monarch butterfly population.

Kruczalak’s research took a twist on the ongoing research topic. She aimed to understand how other insects on the milkweed plant–the only plant monarchs will lay their eggs on and the only plant their caterpillars will eat–could impact the species.

“I have been looking at insects that rely on the common milkweed besides the monarch butterfly,” Kruczalak said. “I am interested in the relationship between milkweed insects and the monarch butterfly. I hypothesized that monarchs are less likely or not likely to lay their offspring onto common milkweed plants that have a higher species diversity than others that have a lower species diversity.”

Monarch butterfly (photo by Justyna Kruczalak)
Monarch butterfly (photo by Kruczalak)

While Kruczalak is still analyzing her data, she says she didn’t see any monarch caterpillars or eggs on plants that had several other milkweed insects. She observed 400 milkweed plants at four preserves at the Forest Preserve District in DuPage County–near her hometown of Wheaton, Illinois.

She enjoyed seeing the variety of insects on the milkweed plants and says these insects could hold a lot of answers. 

“It’s important to study the interactions between other milkweed insects and the monarch butterfly,” Kruczalak said. “Interactions can display how a certain species can be causing the depletion of another.” 

Kruczalak conducted this research as part of her biological and environmental capstone. She hopes to publish her findings in a research journal.