Mark your calendars, butterfly and pollinator fans. San Antonio’s Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival @Pearl will take place October 21 – 22 this fall during peak Monarch butterfly migration week.
The event, organized by the Texas Butterfly Ranch, will celebrate the majesty of the Monarch butterfly migration and the insect pollinators that make one of every three bites of food we eat possible. Also: we hope to honor San Antonio’s unique geographic location on the Monarch flighway, its status as America’s first and only Monarch Champion City (so named by the National Wildlife Federation), the interconnectedness of our world, and our special relationship with Mexico.
Festivities kick off Friday evening, October 21, 6 – 9 PM, at the Pearl Studio with a symposium: Climate Change and the Monarch butterfly migration.
Confirmed speakers include Dr. Cuauhtémoc Sáenz-Romero, a PhD in forestry from Michoacán, Mexico. Dr. Sáenz-Romero has proposed moving the forest where the Monarch butterflies roost 2,000 feet higher in elevation since changing climate suggests that within 20 years, the forest will no longer be able to survive increased temperatures.
Catalina Trail on the cover of National Geographic in 1976
Also confirmed: Catalina Trail, the woman from Morelia, who at the age of 25 “discovered” the Monarch butterfly roosting sites in 1975. Trail, who now lives in Austin, appears on the August 1976 cover of National Geographic, which announced the news to scientists and the world.
Saturday, October 22, a People’s Pollinator Parade led by Earnabike Coop and San Antonio’s own Pedaling Pollinators butterfly bike troupe will convene and “migrate” through the Pearl complex. Costumes are encouraged.
Partner organizations will offer arts, crafts and learning activities for kids of all ages while our friends at the Pearl Farmer’s Market will feature the many insect pollinated foods that make one of every three bites of our food possible.
The EarnaBike Coop’s Pedaling Pollinators will lead the People for Pollinator Parade. Courtesy Photo
Restaurants at the Pearl will highlight foods made possible by pollinators while drinking establishments will offer “The Monarch” a special cocktail created especially for the Festival.
Special thanks to our sponsors for making the Monarch butterfly and pollinator festival at Pearl possible.
SPONSORSHIPS are still available. Check back here for schedules and updates.
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Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced Tuesday that Texas A&M University and Sam Houston State University will share about $500,000 in research funding to study the Monarch butterfly. That brings the total earmarked for researching America’s favorite
Pennies from heaven? Monarch butterflies have generated more than $800K in research grants for state universities in Texas, thanks to the Texas State Comptroller’s Office. Photo by Monika Maeckle
migrating insect by the Comptroller’s office to more than $800,000 in the Lone Star State, just since last June.
Dr. Robert Coulson, Texas A&M University
Texas A&M will receive $299,998 to evaluate the Monarch’s population status in Texas–specifically, the species’ lifecycle, migratory habits and the possible existence of overwintering populations. Dr. Robert Coulson, Entomologist and Director of the Knowledge Engineering Laboratory at A & M, will oversee the research, which he said will fuel the species status assessment required by US Fish and Wildlife as it gauges whether or not the Monarch should be listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Sam Houston State will receive $207,510 to research disease and pests that threaten the butterfly. Dr. Jerry Cook, Professor & Associate VicePresident for Research Entomology, will oversee the study.
Grant recipients submitted projects for consideration in response to a Request for Proposals (RFP) issued by the Comptroller’s office in February.
Dr. Jerry Cook, Sam Houston State University
“Funding decisions were made based on recommendations by a non-biased evaluation committee with respect to the criteria detailed in the RFP,” a spokesperson for the Comptroller’s office said via email. After reviewing recommendations, the Comptroller’s office decided to contract with the two universities. Names of committee members were not made public.
The upcoming studies hope to build on research done by previous Comptroller’s office grant recipients.
In Texas, the State Comptroller’s office oversees the Interagency Task Force on Economic Growth and Endangered Species. The Task Force works with landowners, industries, local communities and institutions to assess the economic impact of proposed ESA species listings in Texas. Research surrounding the ramifications of ESA listings are funded by annual $5 million appropriations approved by the Texas Legislature.
“If the butterfly is listed, many industries important to our state’s economy could be affected, from agriculture to land development to energy production,” said Hegar in a press release. “This crucial research will identify best practices for the voluntary protection of the species on private lands.”
Will Monarchs be listed as “threatened” under the Endamgered Species Act? We’ll know in three years. Monarch on Cowpen daisy. Photo by Scott Ball
The news comes on the heels of a court settlement also announced on July 5 that the USFWS, which rules on all endangered species listings, was awarded three more years to determine whether or not the Monarch butterfly should be listed. USFWS must issue a decision by June 30, 2019, as well as pay the legal bills of the Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety, the two environmental groups that launched the ESA petition in August 2014.
While USFWS was aware the Texas Comptrollers’ office was working to incorporate more universities into the Monarch research grant cycles, a spokesperson said the timing of the announcements was a coincedence. The recent ruling suggests that at least for the next three years, continued research grants will be focused on Monarch butterflies.
“We now know Fish and Wildlife Service will be making its decision whether or not to list the Monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act by June of 2019,” said Dr. Robert Gulley, director of economic growth and endangered species management for the Comptroller’s office. “We believe the research the Comptroller’s office has commissioned, which includes looking at the fifth generation of Monarchs in Texas and the fall migration, will be important in ensuring good science is available when that decision is made.”
A Washington DC Court yesterday awarded the US Fish and Wildlife Service three more years to evaluate whether or not the Monarch butterfly should be listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in a settlement between the government agency and the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD).
Three more years: That’s how long USFWS will get to determine if this guy should be listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. Photo by Monika Maeckle
The settlement also called for reimbursement of reasonable attorneys’ fees for the two environmental groups who initiated the lawsuit.
In August of 2014, CFS, CBD, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, and Dr. Lincoln Brower petitioned the Service to list the Monarch butterfly as a “threatened.” On Dec. 31, 2014, USFWS published a 90-day finding that listing the Monarch might be warranted, and initiated a status review of the species. The Service then failed to rule on the petition by the statutory 12-month deadline.
The complex, convoluted ESA listing process: we are still caught in the second blue bubble from the top. Courtesy graphic
As a result, in March 2016, CBD and CSF filed a complaint against the Service. Yesterday’s settlement is the Court’s answer to that complaint.
The CBD saw the three-year extension as a positive development.
“In the big picture of slow-cogged bureaucracy, a wait of three years is, relatively speaking, a good outcome,” said Tierra Curry, senior scientist for CBD, adding that many species have had to wait decades for a protection decision.
A freak ice and wind storm blew through the Preserve in March, just as Monarchs were taking flight on their journey north. Photo by Dr. Isabel Ramíro
Curry cited threats to the Monarch: milkweed loss, logging in Mexico, the proposed mine in the Monarch Biosphere Reserve, and high mortality and habitat damage caused by a freak winter storm in March that swept through the reserve just as many Monarchs were taking flight on their journey north.
“I would like to see them gain protection sooner rather than later,” she said.
“The settlement provides the least costly alternative to a court case the Service would have had no grounds to contest,” read a statement issued by USFWS spokesperson. “It commits the Service to submit to the Federal Register a 12-month finding for the Monarch butterfly by June 30, 2019, thereby providing a realistic timeframe for the Service to evaluate carefully whether this species warrants protection under the ESA.”
The USFWS statement also noted that the settlement “does not predetermine the Service’s decision, which must be based solely on what the best available science prescribes.”
President Barack Obama, President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada met in Ottawa, Canada, on Wednesday and reconfirmed their commitment to preserve the Monarch butterfly migration.
President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, President Justin Trudeau of Canada and U.S. President Barack Obama met in Ottawa, Canada this week and talked climate change, clean energy and Monarch butterflies. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
Amidst discussions of clean energy and climate change cooperation and comments that compared Donald Trump to Hitler, the “Tres Amigos” used the Monarch butterfly migration as an example of the three countries’ inherent connectedness in a time of political isolationism.
President Peña Nieto of Mexico mentioned in remarks that Monarch butterflies “no longer need visas” and used the migrating insects as an example of globalism. “This is a species that, in its pilgrimage, we can see how our countries are intertwined,” said Peña Nieto.
President Obama called Monarchs “spectacular.”
“I love the story of the Monarch butterflies,” he said. “They’re not just any species — they are spectacular and we want to make sure that our children, our grandchildren can see them as well.”
President Peña Nieto of Mexico suggested the Monarch migration symbolizes how our three countries are intertwined. Photo by Veronica Prida
In a section labeled “Conserve the Monarch butterfly and its habitat,” the North American leaders committed to:
Continue to address habitat loss and degradation of the Monarch butterfly and other pollinators.
Promote sufficient breeding, staging, migration, and overwintering habitat and assure it is made available domestically to support the 2020 Eastern Monarch population target represented by its occupation of six hectares of overwintering habitat in Mexico.
Thanks, Obama! We think Monarchs are “spectacular,” too. Courtesy photo
The NAFTA Presidents’ reunion came 26 months after they first gathered in Toluca, Mexico and agreed to form a task force to study the situation and “ensure the conservation of the Monarch butterfly.”
In the two years and four months since that declaration, much has changed.
Here in the United States, President Obama ordered up a National Pollinator Strategy upon returning from that trip. When the 58-page document was released a year later in May of 2015, it created a public focus on the plight of pollinators, the Monarch butterfly migration in particular. Millions of dollars in research grants, educational programs and government supported initiatives began pouring into the cause of restoring pollinator habitat and educating the public, including the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayor’s Monarch Pledge, which encourages communities along the IH-35 corridor to increase pollinator habitat for Monarchs and other species.
Since the 2014 meeting, the Monarch butterfly population has climbed significantly, tripling this last season. But then climate change dealt the recovery a brutal blow with an unseasonable freeze in March, sweeping through the Oyamel forest where the butterflies roost, killing millions of the migrating butterflies and wrecking the forest “blanket” that ensures their warmth in the winter. Scientists are still assessing the damage. Some projections suggest up to 100 million butterflies were killed.
A freak snowstorm in March killed millions of Monarch butterflies this year, just as they were beginning their journey north.Photo by Dr. Isabel Ramíro
Such uncertainty makes a continued North American cooperative effort all the more welcome.
From the Whitehouse press office:
“We reaffirm our commitment to work collaboratively to achieve our long term goal of conserving North America’s Monarch migratory phenomena and to ensure that sufficient habitat is available to support the 2020 target for the eastern Monarch population.
A year after President Obama announced a National Pollinator Strategy with plans to create a pollinator corridor along Interstate Highway 35 (IH35), the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) signed an agreement to work with five other states to make the “Monarch Highway” a reality.
Common milkweed, host plant to the Monarch butterfly, is one of two native milkweeds to be planted along the Monarch Highway in Texas by TxDOT. Photo by Mark Hixson via Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center
On May 26, Texas joined Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma in signing a Memorandum of Understanding initiated by the Federal Highway Administration. The agreement encourages collaboration among the states to establish best practices and promote public awareness of the Monarch butterfly and other pollinators, and commits the states to plant native milkweeds and nectar plants along IH35, the primary flight path for the migrating insects. A Monarch Highway logo and signage are also in development.
“The I-35 Hill County rest areas are going to be planted with pollinator gardens in the next two months,” said Mark Cross, a spokesman for TxDOT.
TxDOT has planned four pollinator gardens at rest stops along the Monarch Highway, aka IH35. Graphic by Texas Butterfly Ranch
Cross added that the agency is contracting with Texas A&M University to develop short videos that will run at all four rest areas along the I-35 corridor–in Hill County at Mile Marker 362A, La Salle County at Mile Marker 59, Medina County at Mile Marker 130, and in Bell County at Mile Marker 281. The agency is also working with the Native Plant Society of Texas, Texas Master Gardeners and the Gulf Coast Prairie Association.
Literature and handouts promoting pollinators will be created for distribution at all TxDOT rest areas and travel centers, and the agency will convert “several acres” at each designated rest area into pollinator habitat, said Cross, adding, “This will change the landscape from a highly maintained area to a pollinator area.”
Fifteen species of wildflowers comprise the seed mix that TxDOT is planning, said Cross, including Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, and Common milkweed, Aslcepias syriaca.
Here’s the plant list: Black-eyed Susan, Bluebonnet, Butterfly Weed, Common Milkweed, Crimson Clover, Indian Blanket, Lance-Leafed Coreopsis, Mexican Hat, Missouri Primrose, Prairie Verbena, Purple Coneflower, Annual Phlox, Pink Evening Primrose, Plains Coreopsis, and Purple Horsemint.
Purple coneflower, an excellent nectar plant, will be part of the seed mix for the Monarch Highway rest stops. Photo by Monika Maeckle
TxDOT also is working with South Texas Natives, a project of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, to promote and make available appropriate native seed mixes for Texas.
From its start in Gainesville, Texas at the Red River to its finish in Laredo on the Rio Grande, IH35 in Texas brags almost 590 miles–more than any other state. The Lone Star State also serves as the “Texas Funnel” for the Monarch butterfly migration, since all migrating Monarchs must pass through Texas as they move north in the spring and south in the fall, to and from their ancestral roosting sites in Michoacán, Mexico.
In the spring, the butterflies seek their host plant, milkweed, on which to lay their eggs; in the fall, they fuel up on late season nectar plants to power their flight to Mexico, which can exceed 2,500 miles.
Local Native Plant Society of Texas President Joan Miller applauded the news and said that planting of the sites will be incorporated as a service project at NPSOT’s annual symposium in Glen Rose the week of October 14. “The educational value of the installations are extremely important to understanding the use of native plants in landscaping whether it is on public or private property,” said Miller.
As cast in a press release byTxDOT, the Monarch Highway will attract millions of Mexican and Canadian visitors to IH35 each year–but Texas drivers need not worry about more traffic snarls. “They won’t be traveling by road; these visitors will arrive by air as part of a fascinating and fragile migration that happens twice a year.”
Biology students from Trinity University returned to the Texas Butterfly Ranch last week to continue battle with invasive species–specifically, Johnson grass. Four students arrived last Friday to take stock of an ongoing experiment that began last April on the banks of the Llano River and will continue through next year. The goal: figure out which methods are most effective in killing Johnson grass.
Levanya Hospeti and Molly Lenihan assist Dr. Kelly Lyons in collecting data for a Trinity University biology experiment. Foreground: Johnson grass. Photo by Monika Maeckle
“We successfully reduced Johnson grass abundance using both grubbing and herbicide,” said biology professor Dr. Kelly Lyons, a restoration ecologist and invasive plant expert who organized the experiment for her students. While it’s too soon to say whether grubbing (physically removing the Johnson grass) or herbicide (aquatic-safe glyphosate) is more effective, preliminary data suggest that where Johnson grass was reduced, biodiversity increased.
“We also found that in these rainy seasons, Goldenrod competes well with Johnson grass, albeit to the exclusion of most other species,” said Dr. Lyons.
That’s good news for migrating Monarch butterflies who use the late season bloomer as a nectar stop as they move through the Texas Funnel each fall on their way to Mexico.
Goldenrod, a favorite nectar source for Monarch butterflies during the fall migration, competes will with Johnson grass and shields Swamp milkweed from harsh sun and flooding. Llano River, Texas Hill Country. Photo by Monika Maeckle
The project began last April as part of Trinity University’s ongoing research funded by the University, Texas Ecolab, and the National Science Foundation. Last spring, a team of students arrived at the ranch to set up plots and gather baseline data on plant density and diversity. Students established four 15- x 2-meter plots were established and applied different forms of Johnson grass control–grubbing, weedwhackjng, and herbicides, in various combinations.
On this visit, Levanya Hospeti, Molly Lenihan, Austin Philippe and Olivia Roybal joined Dr. Lyons to collect data and plant plugs of native Eastern gamagrass, Tripsicum dactyloides, a boisterous grower that Dr. Lyons believes can compete heftily with the rambunctious Johnson grass. Students planted 20 Eastern gamamgrass plugs and will continue monitoring the site over the course of the next year.
Olivia Roybel watches as Austin Phillipe drills a hole to plant Eastern gamagrass plugs. Photo by Monika Maeckle
Texas Invasives cites Johnson grass as one of the Top 10 Most Noxious weeds in the world. It arrived from the Mediterranean in the 1800s when it was imported as a supplementary foraging crop–even though when stressed, it can produce toxic amounts of hydrocyanic acid that makes it poisonous to livestock. The super aggressive grass spreads through rhizomes and seeds, hogs space and resources, and crowds out natives that provide food, fodder and shelter to local wildlife.
Monarch butterflies nectar on Frostweed along the Llano River in 2012. Now the native nectar source has to compete with Johnson grass. Photo by Monika Maeckle
For years we’ve enjoyed lovely stands of Goldenrod and Frosted on the Llano in the fall when the Monarchs pass through. Solidago altissima and Verbesina virginica, beautiful yellow and white late season nectar sources, respectively, serve as important fuel and resting stops for migrating Monarch butterflies and other creatures. But ever since a road project disrupted our stream bank and hauled in uninvited Johnson grass, we’ve been fighting the battle to win back our native nectar plants.
On the Llano River: Eastern gamagrass, a lovely native and host to the bunchgrass skipper. Photo by Monika Maeckle
Dr. Lyons thinks that the Goldenrod and Eastern gamagrass, a lovely, large bunchgrass related to corn that grows two – 10-feet tall, are up to the task.
Dr. Kelly Lyons
“The species is already present in high abundance and provides high quality habitat,” said Dr. Lyons, adding that Eastern gamagrass also works as a great soil stabilizer in river ecosystems. “Restoration ecologists often refer to it as ‘riparian rebar’ since its rhizomes are even more substantial than Johnson grass,” she said.
So the battle continues. No surprise that we’re rooting–pardon the pun–for Eastern gamagrass. It offers multiple benefits to our local creatures, including service as a host plant to the Bunchgrass skipper. It also appears to be a steady companion to our Llano River Swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, host plant to Monarch butterflies. Tall mounds of Eastern gamagrass already occur naturally all along the Llano, providing shade for late season milkweed from harsh summer sun.
Bunchgrasss skipper hosts on Eastern gamagrass and other bunch grasses. Photo by Charles T. and John R. Bryson, Bugwood.org –
We spend a lot of time and energy talking about restoring native milkweeds and other pollinator plants to the prairies that we’ve lost. It’s equally important to manage and combat the advances of invasive species that infect our wildscapes. Johnson grass is just one interloper. Check out the Texas Invasives website for more information. We’ll keep you posted on the progress of the project.
While the U.S. channels millions of dollars into research, citizen science outreach, and public education on the importance of the Monarch butterfly migration, Mexico is considering the approval of permits that would allow its largest mining company with the country’s worst environmental record to reopen a copper mine in the heart of the Monarchs’ ancestral roosting sites.
What will happen to the roosting sites if copper mining returns to Angangueo? Photo by Monika Maeckle
Grupo Mexico, which trades on the Mexican Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol GMEXICOB and has a market cap of $317 billion, claims that a mine it operated until 1992 in Angangueo, Michoacán, technically never closed, and thus should be allowed to reopen, despite protections put in place for the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. The reserve was inscribed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2008.
Grupo Mexico touts itself on the company’s website as a “leader in low-cost production” and has a deserved reputation for lax ecological controls. The company was responsible for the worst mining accident in Mexican history.
In August of 2014, the holding company’s Buenavista copper mine in Sonora released 10 million gallons of copper sulfate acid and other heavy metals into the Sonora and Bacanuchi rivers, contaminating the water supply of 24,000 people along the U.S. border with Arizona. Mexico’s Minister of Environment Juan José Guerra called the incident the “worst natural disaster provoked by the mining industry in the modern history of Mexico.” Grupo Mexico attributed the accident to heavy rains.
The accident was so severe that for the first time in Mexican history, PROFEPA, the country’s equivalent of the Environmental Protection Agency, was forced by community outrage to file a legal complaint against the mining company, holding it financially responsible for the clean-up. Grupo Mexico was forced to create a $150 million trust to address the environmental impacts.
A September 2014 dispatch in El Financiero, Mexico’s leading business and financial news daily, cited a report from a special Mexican Congressional investigation into the Buenavista incident. The conclusion: “Grupo Mexico and its affiliate Buenavista del Cobre mine, far from being a socially responsible enterprise respectful of the environment and in solidarity with the local population, have put at risk human life, the environment and the economic development of the region.”
The above catastrophe wasn’t the only time Grupo Mexico unleashed a mining disaster. Back in 2006, an explosion at the Pasta de Conchos mine in Coahuila killed 65 miners. After striking 14 times because of methane leaks and generally unsafe working conditions, the unionized miners were blown to bits in the blast. In addition to the significant loss of life, serious environmental impacts resulted–air and water pollution, soil contamination, erosion, deforestation and more.
This incident, along with the Buenavista disaster and a corporate history of union busting and low-cost mining, have earned Grupo Mexico a reputation as “one of the country’s most irresponsible mining companies,” according to the Transborder Project in Washington, DC.
Will copper mining come to the Monarch butterfly roosting sites in Angangueo, Mexico? Photo by Carol Stoker, NASA, Wikipedia
The turn of events is literally unbelievable given that a little over two years ago Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto stood with President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and pledged to support the preservation of the Monarch butterfly migration.
“We have also agreed to work on the preservation of the Monarch butterfly as an emblematic species of North America which unites our three countries,” President Enrique Peńa Nieto said at the end of the summit. The leaders agreed to form a task force to study the situation and “ensure the conservation of the Monarch butterfly.”
President Barack Obama President Enrique Pena Nieto and Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledged to help save the Monarch butterfly migration back in 2014. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)
So, how does allowing a company with one of the worst environmental records in Mexican history to reopen a copper mine in the heart of the Monarch Butterfly Biopreserve move us toward that goal?
“In México, in governmental affairs linked to big companies, corruption has no limits,” said one Mexican scientist, who, like several Mexican residents interviewed, asked to remain nameless for fear of reprisals. Another source said he would like to speak out, but wouldn’t because he had neither the “stature nor protection” to do so.
The move by Grupo Mexico to reopen the mine has been underway for years, but came into U.S. focus most recently when Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Dan Fagin addressed the subject in a thoughtful April 29 New York Times opinion piece headlined “A Mine vs. a Million Monarchs.” The article lays out the complex issues facing the community of Angangueo as they struggle for economic stability building a nascent ecotourism economy in the middle of the Mexican mountains.
“It’s difficult to say what’s going to happen,” said Dr. Chip Taylor, founder of Monarch Watch, the citizen scientist program that tags thousands of migrating Monarch butterflies each fall, by phone this week. He added that he’d heard that many in the Mexican government oppose the mine.
“There are lots of declarations by people who say that they’re not going to let certain things happen– and then they do happen.” Taylor encouraged a united front in opposition to the reopening of the mine.
Grupo Mexico did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
A research paper published April 27 in the journal Oikos is causing a stir in the Monarch butterfly world. The paper challenges the conventional wisdom that the major cause of the decline of the Monarch butterfly migration is a lack of milkweed tied to the increased adoption of herbicide tolerant crops in the butterflies’ midwestern breeding grounds.
Migrating Monarch butterflies nectar on Frostweed in the Texas Hill Country, October, 2011. Photo by Monika Maeckle
“Planting milkweed is probably not a bad thing to do but it’s not going to increase their population or save them from some demise,” said Dr. Agrawal in a nine-minute video titled “Beyond milkweed: Monarchs face habitat, nectar threats.” The video, below, was released in conjunction with the paper.
“Milkweed is probably not the limiting thing for the Monarch population,” he said. “Perhaps planting milkweed will not improve or increase the populations as much as we thought in the past.”
Calling the decline of the Monarch butterfly migration a “very very gnarly problem,” Agrawal gave kudos to citizen scientists for their involvement in the study and said more than once that we must “get the science right.”
“We must identify the key weak points. It is absolutely critical. If we don’t, we could be investing a lot of effort into conserving a portion of the migration but it may have ultimately no impact conserving the species overall,” he said.
Agrawal and his team matched Monarch butterfly counts made by citizen scientists and others to the different stages of the migration. After doing so, they found that counts were not down until the end of the migratory cycle, when the butterflies started heading south.
“By the time they get to Mexico, their numbers are plummeting,” said Agrawal, “but at the end of the summer, when they start that migration, their numbers are not down.”
The research underscores the different needs of the species at the different stages of their life cycle.
In early spring, as Monarchs move north through the Texas funnel, they need milkweed on which to lay the first generation of eggs. They continue to need milkweed through the summer as subsequent generations reproduce as they move north.
But in the fall when the Monarchs are heading south, they don’t need milkweed since they enter their reproductive diapause–that is, a temporary stage in which they postpone sexual activities and save their energy to migrate to Mexico. At this point, they need water, ample nectar sources, trees or other protection at night for roosting, and connected habitats.
It’s not just about the milkweed. Monarch butterfly on Swamp milkweed in downtown San Antonio, September 2014. Photo by Monika Maeckle
Agrawal’s point is well taken. Immense focus has been devoted on increasing the Monarch butterfly host plant, milkweed. Milkweed, anything in the Asclepias family, is necessary in the early stages of the migration when the Monarchs are reproductive. But what about later in the game, when Monarchs are NOT reproductive? They require nectar to fuel their flight. Agrawal and his colleagues suggest that late season nectar plants and perhaps interconnected habitats–ie, pollinator corridors–would make their continuous route south more doable.
Monarchs caterpillars eat only milkweed, but Monarch butterflies will nectar indiscriminately. Photo by Monika Maeckle
“If you were charged with figuring out how many people are participating in the Boston Marathon each year, you wouldn’t count the number of people who cross the finish line,” said Davis. “For many years we’ve been counting the finishing Monarchs in Mexico….We’ve been doing it backwards.”
What Dr. Agrawal says about nectar plants makes sense, especially for Texas.
Think about it: as Monarchs migrate south in the fall through the Texas funnel, they are not reproductive. Their goal during this part of the migratory cycle is to fuel up on late season nectar plants and build up their body fat so they can make it to Mexico and survive the winter. There, in early March of the following spring, they will leave their mountain roosts to mate, lay eggs on milkweed, and start the cycle all over again.
Monarch nectaring on Duranta at Texas Butterfly Ranch urban butterfly garden, downtown San Antonio, November 2015. Photo by Monika Maeckle
That suggests that in the fall in Texas, there really is no need for milkweed for migratory Monarchs. In fact, one could argue (and many scientists have) that having milkweed available late in the season will encourage Monarchs to break their diapause and reproduce, thus never arriving in Mexico. This also suggests what Monarchs DO need in the fall: late season nectar sources.
The point is important and timely, given that millions of dollars in conservation funding and grants are being awarded as we speak. Should those grants and initiatives be focused on cultivating more milkweed or developing more sources and locations for late season nectar plants?
In much of Texas, called “the most important state” to the migration by Dr. Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch and others, the fall garden trumps the abbreviated spring garden season. Temperatures climb into triple digits so early here that it’s challenging to grow many fruits, vegetables and flowers until the fall when things cool off. In such a context, and given the timing of the Monarchs arrival here in the fall, late season perennial blooming plants should be encouraged. We are well-suited to provide them.
Goldenrod, a favorite nectar source for Monarch butterflies during the fall migration, awaits on the Llano River in the Texas Hill Country. Photo by Monika Maeckle
Need ideas? Try Goldenrod, Frostweed, Autumn sage, Late flowering boneset, Asters, Cowpen daisy in your fall garden if you want to help Monarchs. In my downtown San Antonio butterfly garden last year, Duranta, sometimes called Brazilian skyflower, was a big draw for Monarchs and other pollinators. It’s not native, but a well adapted flowering bush–and highly appropriate, fantastic plant.
The completely unscientific poll launched last Thursday. Votes were tallied from website and social media clicks, shares and comments.
Lookin’ good! SAWS CEO Robert Puente shows off the utility’s Fiesta butterfly medal which won first place in our Best Fiesta 2016 butterfly medal competition. Congratulations, SAWS! Photo courtesy SAWS
In addition to hundreds of clicks and shares, the SAWS medal spawned more than 60 online comments. Several voters pointed out that the medal was the only one to include a caterpillar as well as flowers, thus better portraying the entire life cycle and the synergies that bind us.
WINNER: SAWS 2016 Fiesta medal
“When I see the (SAWS) medal it makes me think of change, strength, and rebirth,” wrote Rachel Garza Carreon, who voted for the winner. “The caterpillar has to hope that as it changes into a butterfly it will work. There is always a danger of outside predators, etc. It is a journey we can all relate to. Change is scary, but you can come through it stronger than ever.”
That holistic reaction was exactly the desired effect, said Dana Nichols, SAWS Conservation Manager of Outdoor Programs, who helped design the medal. “We thought it was important to get the details right so we included the caterpillar and even the native Antelope horns milkweed,” said Nichols. “As with all of our GardenStyleSA.com information, we wanted our medal to be accurate, relevant, as well as remind us all of what it takes to see Monarchs in our area.”
The San Antonio River Authority, SARA, took second place. SARA’s medal featured a dramatic black ribbon, the Monarch’s orange-and-black color palette, with a butterfly and the SARA logo in the middle.
Voters had strong feelings about this medal, too. It generated dozens of comments like this one from Marilyn Rauch Cavicchia on Facebook: “I love this one so much. Simple and cool–and really makes the Monarch the star of the show.”
SARA spokesman Steven Schauer thanked all those who voted for SARA and congratulated SAWS for taking first place. “The real winner of this fun Fiesta medal competition is the Monarch butterfly and other pollinator species,” said Schauer.
CPS Energy‘s fancy gold Mariposa medal came in third, benefitting the Green Spaces Alliance, and the medal issued by Mayor Ivy Taylor, who is largely responsible for San Antonio’s newfound butterfly fixation, came in fourth.
San Antonio’s butterfly friendly Mayor Ivy Taylor signed the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge in December 2015. Here, she releases a butterfly at the San Antonio Zoo’s Monarch Fest in March. –Photo by Monika Maeckle
The recent butterfly fascination can be attributed to raised awareness of pollinator decline, Monarch butterflies in particular. The iconic insects’ unique, captivating Pan American migration faces increasing obstacles as climate change, habitat destruction, abuse of pesticides and genetically modified crops challenge its future.
The bee collapse has also raised awareness of our insect friends’ huge contribution to making one of every three bites of food we eat possible. President Obama’s National Pollinator Strategy, issued in May 2015, has galvanized grass-roots advocacy in the last year, focusing grant monies and other funding to address threats to pollinators.
At the local level, our butterfly-friendly Mayor, who signed the National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) Mayor’s Monarch Pledge in December, deserves much credit for making San Antonio the first and to date, ONLY Monarch Champion city in the country by agreeing to execute all 24 NWF’s recommended action items to increase pollinator habitat. Ever since, our city has gone a little butterfly crazy. Every department of the City has been tasked with doing something about pollinator decline–thus the crop of butterfly medals. That’s good news in our book.
Choices choices. More than 400 butterfly fans and medal maniacs voted in our Butterfly Fiesta Medal contest. Photo by Monika Maeckle
Despite coming in last place, Mayor Taylor was gracious, congratulating SAWS for winning and the other butterfly medal issuers for promoting Monarch and pollinator awareness.
“Since signing the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge in December, it’s been such a pleasure watching the awareness and love of Monarchs spread,” said Mayor Taylor. “San Antonio is definitely doing its part to protect our state insect.”
Children Bereavement Center’s Fiesta 2016 medal –courtesy photo
Worth noting: butterfly Fiesta medals are not just for government entities. We learned from contest voters that at least two other butterfly medals were issued this year.
Leon Valley issued one with two colorful butterflies dancing above a Fiesta wreath and their tagline “deep roots, big ideas.” The Children’s Bereavement Center also issued a butterfly medal.
Few traditions define San Antonio more than the city’s annual Fiesta celebration. The iconic San Antonio party, Fiesta started in 1891 when a group of lady conservationists organized a single parade with horse-drawn carriages, bicycles and a “battle of flowers” whereby they pelted each other with petals to salute the heroes of the Alamo.
Now, 125 years later, the 10-day celebration includes at least five parades and hundreds of other events over two weekends that generate millions in economic support for local nonprofit organizations as well as a springtime boost to the local economy. Just like butterflies, Fiesta has evolved.
Check out those medals! San Antonio LOVES its Fiesta medals. This year, four medals feature butterflies. Please vote for your favorite, below. Photo courtesy Rivard Report
One of Fiesta’s most beloved traditions is the sharing and exchange of Fiesta medals. Each year, businesses, nonprofits and government entities create a Fiesta medal to commemorate that year’s Fiesta. Some folks collect the keepsake trinkets, stashing them in jewelry boxes and display cases and/or wearing heavy medaled (literally) sashes decorated with the medaled pins. Several Facebook pages are devoted to the Fiesta medal fascination.
This year, at least four entities have issued Monarch butterfly and mariposa-themed medals. Why?
Choices choices. Which is your favorite? Vote below. Photo by Monika Maeckle
As a result, the Mayor, the San Antonio River Authority, SAWS (San Antonio Water System, the local public water utility) and CPS Energy (the community owned electric and gas utility) all issued 2016 Fiesta medals with butterfly themes.
I’m having a hard time deciding which one is my favorite. You?
Below are the medals in the order in which I received them, with descriptions. Please take a look, and after reviewing, vote for your favorite at the end of this post. Comments welcome. We’ll share the winner via social media.
1. Mayor Ivy Taylor’s Fiesta Medal
Mayor Ivy Taylor’s 2016 Fiesta medal–Photo by Monika Maeckle
Mayor Taylor graciously handed out these medals to all the volunteers at the San Antonio Zoo’s first annual Monarch butterfly Festival in March. The medal hangs from a happy aquamarine ribbon and shows the San Antonio skyline hovering over the Mayor’s name. Below, a Monarch butterfly with wings open rests above the words “Monarch Champion City.”
2. San Antonio River Authority 2016 Fiesta Medal
San Antonio River Authority’s 2016 Fiesta medal –Photo by Monika Maeckle
The San Antonio River Authority, a local agency known as SARA, oversees the San Antonio River watershed and the lauded nine-mile riparian restoration known as The Mission Reach. SARA issued this Monarch butterfly themed medal, using the Monarch’s iconic orange-and-black color palette with the SARA logo in the center. The medal hangs from a dramatic black ribbon.
It’s worth noting that SARA also took the Mayor’s Monarch pledge and has planted a LOT of native milkweed and nectar plants along the Mission Reach that moves south from downtown San Antonio, connecting our historic Missions, recently named collectively a world heritage site. SARA has also maintained a Tropical milkweed patch for years on the San Antonio River Museum Reach north of downtown near the historic Pearl. The site has become a year-round Monarch butterfly hangout in years that we don’t get a freeze. The medal reinforces our city’s–and SARA’s–status as a Monarch champion.
3. CPS Energy’s 2016 Fiesta medal
CPS Energy’s 2016 Fiesta medal –Photo by Monika Maeckle
CPS Energy, San Antonio’s community owned electric and gas utility, was already planning this colorful addition to the butterfly medal roster when it staged a pollinator patch and pathway at the Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas Annual Cookie Rally and Tailgate in January. The butterfly theme was a great way to tie in their commitment to renewable energy and sustainability.
The medal sports a showy gold lapel-pin topper emblazoned with “CPS Energy” in bold black letters. A multi-colored ribbon holds a medal on seeded wildflower paper, showing a generic mariposa–the Spanish word for butterfly–lilting above an orange-and-yellow flower. Hmm, is that milkweed? Not sure. NOTE: I work as a contract communications consultant for CPS Energy.
4. San Antonio Water System 2016 Fiesta medal
SAWS 2016 Fiesta medal –Photo by Monika Maeckle
San Antonio Water System, known locally as SAWS, launched an uber relevant and user-friendly website last year called GardenStyleSA.com. The website aims to encourage locals to landscape more appropriately in a world of dramatic climate change and a community with no surface water resources. Native plant advice, rebates for removing water-guzzling grass–even guidance on pets and plants are included in the educational online resource.
The SAWS medal hangs from a bright aqua ribbon and not only includes a Monarch butterfly, but a fifth instar Monarch caterpillar who appears ready to bust his stripes. The butterfly floats above a variety of flowers and below the SAWS logo and the name of the landscaping website, GardenStyleSA.
“The message is not subtle,” says Karen Guz, director of conservation for SAWS. “If you want Monarch butterflies, help the caterpillars by planting and sustaining the native milkweed plants.”
Amen, sister. And Viva Fiesta!
Don’t forget to vote, below. Just click on your pick, and we’ll share the results.