Each year sometime in October Monarch butterfly migration begins. Monarchs fly from habitats in the Adirondack Mountains and other places in the cold Northeast to Mexico where they winter. Butterflies and moths are important in the food chain because many birds fed their young caterpillars. Butterflies are serious pollinators too. Monarchs fly very high and travel more than 1,500 miles as they head southwest. Ruth and I once owned a house in St. Louis that Monarchs flew over every year. One time I was outside painting on a high ladder when I suddenly realized that I was literally surrounded by them. Unforgettable. Ruth used to take her classes outside when Monarchs arrived in the schoolyard and tell kids to spread their arms out. At first afraid, they soon delighted in having butterflies land briefly on both arms.
The Monarchs that winter in the fir forests near Michoacán, Mexico, for 4 or 5 months are not the same ones that left The Adirondacks. Three generations occur as they migrate south and another 3 as they head back north. I asked the staff at the National Butterfly Center in Mission if they were in their flyway and they said “not yet” so they only see a few. They did tell me, happily, that the number of Monarchs is definitely increasing. Del Rio, Texas, is in the flyway.
The dedicated staff at the National Butterfly Center, however, is planting much milkweed, the only plant that Monarchs devour, in the hope that they will see more eventually. In the meantime, they are selling 3 types of milkweed and don’t lack for other butterfly species. The Rio Grande Valley is home to more than 300 of them and 500 bird species. That’s why the National Butterfly Center is here and opened 7 days a week.
Monarchs also migrate in California. There’s a Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Pacific Grove, which calls itself “Butterfly Town, U.S.A”. Monarchs spend the winter in Southern California along the coast between Sonoma and San Diego and can usually be seen from mid-October through February.
In October 108 butterfly species, mostly locals, were spotted in the National Butterfly Center. November, however, is their best month. Last November 118 species were recorded. The only ones we saw during our 10 days in the Rio Grande Valley were cloudless sulphurs. The Center’s native plant nursery grows 60 to 80 plant species, sells them, and encourages visitors to build their own butterfly gardens with “a minimum of three nectar and three host plants” plus a tree for chrysalis attachment. Interested?
The National Butterfly Center, a 5 Compass travel stop, keeps accurate count of bird and butterfly visitors. Those who attend their November festival don’t get swarmed by Monarchs yet, but they do get to see many species with expert guides on both public and private property. Information is available by calling 956 583 5400 or visiting NBC’s website.