The monarch butterfly, Texas’ state insect, has rapidly declined in numbers over the past 20 years, down 95% by some estimates.
Every spring and fall, millions of monarch butterflies come to Texas on their way to and from Mexico. Monarchs pass through Texas each fall on their way from Canada to Mexico, where they overwinter. Texans start seeing monarchs in August, then peak migration occurs in early October. They arrive in Mexico in early November, before heading north and returning to Texas in March to search for milkweed and lay eggs.
“The overall number of monarch butterflies in Mexico is declining,” said Carol Clark, Monarch Watch’s conservation specialist for North Texas. “What happens to monarchs in Texas affects that overall population number.”
On July 21, the International Union for Conservation of Nature put the migratory monarch butterfly on the endangered species list, saying the population has declined by 22% to 72% in the past decade. The western population is most at risk of extinction, the IUCN said, having declined by 10 million to 1,914 butterflies between the 1980s and 2021. The broader eastern population has also declined by 84% between 1996 and 2014.
In 2020, Texas A&M noted that the number of migrants fell to around 141.5 million, from 300 million in 2019. And in 2021, they fell to around 105 million. This year, we may see even smaller numbers of monarch butterflies flying across the state. This is because they are threatened by habitat loss, pesticide use, increased disease, and the loss of milkweed and nectar plants in the landscapes where they used to grow.
“There are reports coming from the North that people are seeing monarchs later and in fewer numbers, but many factors play into these final migration numbers and there is still time for monarchs to do well,” Clark said. . “It will largely depend on the weather in many parts of the country, so it’s a bit difficult to predict at this stage.”
Once they cross into Texas this fall, the drought could make conditions worse for the insects.
“When it stays dry for the fall migration, the monarchs can’t fatten up as they cross Texas, which they have to do, they won’t have enough fat reserves to overwinter in Mexico. “Clark said. “So if the drought persists in the fall, we won’t have the wildflowers they need to grow on their way to Mexico.”
How to Help Monarch Butterflies
There are a few simple ways to make an immediate difference for monarchs, including reducing pesticide use and increasing habitats. The best part – you will have your own butterfly garden to marvel at the brightly colored insects.
“You can’t wait for the government to do something, it will be too late,” Clark said. “If we can save the monarch migration, it will be through individual action, people acting on any piece of land they have influence over and simply planting wildflowers for nectar and native milkweeds. “
In the spring, monarch butterflies need milkweed to lay their eggs and nectar plants for energy. If they don’t have that, monarchs can’t reproduce and fly north, Clark said. In the fall, they need bee plants for their journey to Mexico.
You don’t have to be a master gardener to help save the iconic butterflies. Putting a pot on your balcony or yard with milkweed and a nectar plant should do the trick, says Clark. To kick it up a notch if you have more outdoor space for gardening, you can plant several types of nectar plants as well as native milkweed.
Texas Parks and Wildlife suggests the following nectar plants for a butterfly garden:
- purple echinacea
- Gregg’s Haze
- white mist
- Indian Blanket
- daisy with golden eyes
- Texas kidney wood
- Turkish cap
- Texas Lantana
- Bee brush
“If Texas doesn’t do its part, then the cycle is broken and the monarchs are really struggling to keep going,” Clark said. “Just watering a small patch of flowers at home proves to be very important during a dry fall, when there may not be as many flowers in the landscape.”
Where to See Monarch Butterflies in Texas
Celebrate the arrival of rare monarch butterflies to Texas with butterfly gardens, butterfly releases, festivals and educational programs.
“The monarch butterfly is as beautiful and memorable as a Texas sunset, soaring above all other insects in its nobility and determination, and its unique relationship to Texas makes it a truly apt symbol of majestic spirit of the Lone Star State,” the state said. wrote the lawmaker when he named the state insect monarch on June 16, 1995.
Texas Native Butterfly House and Garden
Where: Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary – 1 Nature Place, McKinney
When: From Saturday 4 June to Sunday 2 October
Price: Included with general admission, free for Heard Museum members, purchase at hearmuseum.org/tickets/
From June through October, visitors to Native Texas Butterfly House and Garden can stroll among native butterflies and other pollinators. You can observe them up close while learning about their life stages and other fun facts, and you might even see a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. Visitors can also feed nectariferous plants to butterflies and host plants to caterpillars.
Where: Wild Seed Farms – 100 Legacy Dr, Fredericksburg
When: Oct. 8 from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Wild Seed Farms is a wildflower farm that has been cultivating fields of wildflowers for over 35 years. It’s the largest wildflower farm in the country, with over 200 acres in Fredericksburg alone. In October, the farm will celebrate the monarch migration with a tagging demonstration and release.
Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival
Where: Brackenridge Park – 3910 N. St. Mary’s, San Antonio
When: Saturday, October 8, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival takes flight in October as migratory monarch butterflies pass through the state. The seventh annual festival begins with a parade, followed by the marking of monarch butterflies in honor of their loved ones, the fidgeting dance and the maneuvering of an obstacle course as the monarch migrates. If you would like to tag a butterfly in honor of a friend, family member or loved one, details are provided online.
Where: Grapevine Botanical Gardens at Heritage Park
When: Saturday, October 15, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Price: Free entry. Certain activities of vendors or catering services may be chargeable.
Bring the whole family to celebrate the monarch butterfly migration at 25th Annual Flutterby Butterfly in the vineyard. It all starts with a parade, where prizes will be awarded to the best-dressed children and pets. You can also participate in a live monarch butterfly release and learn more about them through an interactive exhibit and story time. Stop at the arts and crafts station to make a hand-printed pet bandana, pom-pom caterpillar or butterfly on a stick. Finally, browse an art gallery featuring K-5 artists from the Grapevine/Colleyville Independent School District, as well as an exhibit with more than 300 butterflies from around the world.
Texas Butterfly Festival
Where: National Butterfly Center – 3333 Butterfly Park, Mission
When: Oct. 29 to Nov. 1
Price: $355 per member and $395 for non-members
The National Butterfly Center is a Botanical and wildlife garden with 100 acres of native plants reserve established by the North American Butterfly Association to further its mission of education and conservation. The center will host the 26th edition Texas Butterfly Festivala three-day event where attendees can expect to see over 60 species of butterflies in one day.
This story was originally published July 27, 2022 8:32 a.m.