Veronica Kyle explaining her use of monarch butterflies as welcoming to her “little house in the ‘hood’’ leads into my favorite webisode of “URBAN NATURE.’’

Kyle, who works for Faith in Place, an organization that helps religious communities care for the environment, pulls monarch butterflies to her South Side Side home with plantings in front.

“What is so remarkable is how she identifies with the monarchs, as an African-American woman who migrated from the south,’’ series producer Dan Protess said. “I knew that the public was being encouraged to plant milkweed–the host plant for monarch butterflies–but I had never thought about what motivates people to take action. In particular, there has been a push to plant milkweed among Chicago’s Mexican-Americans, many of whom have immigrated from Michoacan, the same state where the monarchs overwinter.’’

The 16-webisode “URBAN NATURE,’’ which premiers Monday, March 20, on wttw.com, focuses on unusual forms of wildlife thriving in pockets of three big cities: Chicago, New York, and San Francisco.

Turtles in the Calumet Region.
Credit: URBAN NATURE

Marcus Kronforst, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, hosts the show, which Protess produces.

Urban wilds are a mix. And that shows in this mix of West Coast, Midwest and East Coast. The segments around Chicago include the Loop, Austin, Lincoln Square, South Shore, Bronzeville, Rogers Park, Little Village, Hegewisch and Oak Park.

The focus of Kronforst’s work is evolutionary biology: “topics related to color pattern genetics and evolution in butterflies and frogs, butterfly mate preference, monarch butterfly migration, and other things,’’ usually in the jungles of South America or South East Asia.’’

So the natural question for Kronforst is why urban nature, something sort of the antithesis of the jungle?

“First, our work on monarch butterfly migration, although not focused on the conservation issues directly, has really opened my eyes to the concept that urban settings can be both good and bad for natural systems,’’ he said. “Second, we recently started a project exploring how butterfly caterpillars eat and detoxify their host plants — we turned to a common resident of urban settings, the Cabbage White butterfly, and collected hundreds of these butterflies around the University of Chicago.

“This experience showed me that when you get out there and start looking, there is a remarkable amount of fascinating ecology happening right under our noses all throughout the city.’’

Chicago is not unique in that regard.

“We spent a long time filming on the Bronx River and we could only highlight a small fraction of the work that is being done there,’’ Kronforst said. “Essentially, people in the most urban setting imaginable are now working hard to reclaim the nature right outside their back door — this is driven by local, community efforts.

“In addition, we had so much interest from passersby as we filmed (such as when we were electrofishing in the rain!), which goes so show that people are inherently interested in their local nature, but only if they know it is there. I think our series will help point out some of the intriguing — and perhaps overlooked — aspects of urban nature.’’

I consider that stuff worthy of making a life’s work.

Click here to link to the webisodes.

Credit: URBAN NATURE