Nature

Texas Hill Country Monarch Migration

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Texas Hill Country Monarch Migration

By Spring Sault

Arguably the most beautiful and majestic of butterflies, the monarch, has the longest migration of any of its kind. Twice annually, varying generations of this king of butterflies makes a 3 thousand-mile journey, leaving its roosts in Mexico in the spring to head north, and again returning from Canada in the fall, flying south for the winter. It is the latter journey that we’re in the midst of this week and into next, as reported by Journey North, a program and website funded by a division of the Annenburg Foundation. According to Journey North’s daily tracking of the monarch’s patterns, Hill Country, which is directly within its path, is poised to see the height of this migration through central and south Texas (a.k.a. the ‘Texas funnel’) throughout the month of October, 2015.

Texas Hill Country Monarch Migration

Photo: dallastrinitytrails.blogspot.ca

No one knows exactly how these butterflies follow their particular path along this bi-annual journey other than to hypothesize that through instinct alone they’ve come to successfully complete it year after year. Scientists have learned that through smell and vision, like all that possess these senses, the monarch can use these abilities to assess its environment. Its sense of sight has a broad spectrum in perception of colors and it has the capacity to perceive UV light; something which humans cannot. It has also been determined that its process of communication draws on colors and scents. Similar to birds, migrating monarchs make use of prevailing winds and warm updrafts of air called “thermals” to glide in an effort to preserve their energy – energy that’s needed to flap their wings (300-720 times per minute) throughout the long journey from the Great Lakes region in Canada to roosting sites in warm Michoacán, Mexico. Each winter, scientists measure the number of hectares (approx. 2.5 acres each) that the monarch butterflies occupy at these sites, and for each hectare occupied, it is estimated that there are 50 million monarchs.

Texas Hill Country Monarch Migration

Photo: photography.nationalgeographic.com

It is a wonderfully amazing event, as well as an educational moment for your children if you or they are so inclined, to witness, photograph and document. The monarch migration through Hill Country can be monitored through not only the Journey North website (which is very extensive in detail, including mapping, approximate dates, and locations for potential viewing) but also the Texas Butterfly Ranch, an amazing actual butterfly ranch along the Llano River in Texas, with resources and events around educating, inspiring and exploring all things butterfly!

Texas Hill Country Monarch Migration

Photo: texasbutterflyranch.com

If you would rather take your chances than research the ‘net (‘inter’, not ‘butterfly’) why not try visiting nature trails, state parks or sanctuaries. Look for places that have a strong showing of milkweed (the monarch’s only source of food), or other butterfly-friendly plants. You might be lucky and one or more of these winged-creatures will simply cross your path in your own backyard, and if you’re interested, you can learn a lot just by observing. For example, to discern a male monarch butterfly from female, look for a black spot on an inside surface of its hind wing. They use their eyes to locate flowers, but if you watch closely, they use their antennas to smell for nectar and they have tiny receptors on their feet called “tarsi” to taste it. And the adults feed on nectar as well as water by sipping it through a tube called “proboscis” which is normally coiled under their head when they’re not using it.

Texas Hill Country Monarch Migration

Photo: texasbutterflyranch.com

Hill Country can claim its place on the map of one of earth and life’s majestic wonders. A butterfly is a creature so delicate and fragile, and yet so resilient. Despite the great effort required and the perils along the way (rain, the possible freezing temperatures, and the steady reduction in natural habitat) the beautiful monarch migration can travel at speeds of twelve to twenty-five miles per hour, and fly as high as a mile in the sky, and it’s coming to a field or flower near you!