About the Texas Butterfly Ranch

The Texas Butterfly Ranch results from a lifelong interest in the outdoors, and a more recent fascination with butterflies and their life cycle.

Monika Maeckle, Texas Butterfly Ranch  photo: Nicolas Rivard

Monika Maeckle, Texas Butterfly Ranch

Exploring the creek as a kid ranked as my favorite after-school pastime.  Digging in the dirt came naturally. And I relished helping my parents tend their radish and tomato garden, an endeavor that sustains me to this day.

Becoming a Master Gardener, managing a weekend ranch for wildlife, and discovering that our stretch of the Llano River lay in the path of the magnificent Monarch migration amplified my butterfly passion.  When I realized the pecan trees on our riverbanks of the Llano served as roost to thousands of Monarch butterflies each Fall, I was hooked.

What struck me most was that they had always been there, I just hadn’t noticed. Now, I do. I encourage readers to do the same.

Soon I was raising caterpillars in my yard and kitchen and researching host plants to add to my garden and the ranch.

People often ask:  So, where is the Texas Butterfly Ranch?

I like to say it’s a state of mind.  In my case, the geographic collective of Austin, San Antonio and the Hill Country.

On these pages we hope to educate, inspire and explore the life cycle we all share by focusing on butterflies in all their stages–from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly.  We’ll also look at host plants, because without them, the life cycle wouldn’t be possible. I wish for each reader that you witness the daily miracle of metamorphosis and the eclosure of a butterfly.  You will be irrevocably touched.

Thanks for stopping by.   See you outside.


76 thoughts on “About the Texas Butterfly Ranch

  1. HI! I need to get in touch with someone ASAP to see if there are still any Monarchs in San Antonio. I am doing a project for the University of Georgia and need to do some harmless testing – they’re looking for information on Monarchs infected with OE. Please contact me if you know where I can locate some Monarchs to sample (they will be released unharmed as soon as I am done). Thank you!

  2. Monika – I found the Milkweed patch today near the Pearl Brewery . . . Was able to catch 6 Monarchs to sample them for the OE parasite and then release them again where I found them. I also noted 5 big fat caterpillars munching away on the Milkweed :) SOOO glad I came across the article about this place! Thanks!

  3. Hi I would like to get in touch with someone who could answer some questions I have about Monarch Butterflies. Please contact me via email asap! Thank You!

  4. I know it’s a little late in the game this year but there needs to be a monarch fiesta medal!!! Proceeds could maybe go to milkweed patches???

  5. Hi! Do you have any advice for raising monarchs in captivity in a greenhouse? I have potted milkweed and nectar plants available, but a wondering if it’s difficult to get the females to lay eggs in an enclosure.

    • Hi Carol,
      Raising Monarchs in a greenhouse can be easy and fun, but there’s also possibilities of disease for the plants and the caterpillars. If you have gravid females on hand, they should lay eggs on milkweed if the temperature and moisture is right. I suggest following Monarch Watch’s Facebook or checking out their rearing Monarchs section on their website at http://www.monarchwatch.org. Good luck!


  6. hi…i’m also interested in your response to the above question AND i wonder if it’s possible to PURCHASE –for birthday gifting to young butterfly enthusiasts– butterfly cocoons/chrysalises for presents that open themselves?

    • Hi Terry,
      You can definitely purchase Monarchs and other butterflies in all stages–from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis or cocoon. Goto the International Butterfly Breeders’ Association site at http://www.butterflylbreeders.org for a list of reputable breeders. I suggest trying to stay close to home if you can in terms of who you order from. Good luck!


  7. I am on a Maine island and would like to travel to Texas and/or Morelia to see the Monarchs migration. I went to four sanctuaries last January and was hooked forever. Can you give me any information on how/where/when to go ? Thank you

  8. I am on a Maine island and would like to visit Texas and/or Mexico/Morelia to see the migration. I went to four sanctuaries last January and would like to know how/when they come thru Texas and get to Michoacan, etc. if you please. Thank you

  9. Thanks for your speedy reply. Apparently Bill Calvert isn’t doing trips now. I read about him in Sue Halpern’s book. I’ll keep trying.

    • It can be quite dangerous with the narco violence and lack of justice, thus many operators are not offering tours, given the liability issues. Unfortunate. –MM

  10. Hi Monika! Just wanted to comment that I love your “About” page. Last year, I began the Maryland Master Naturalist program. Like you, I spent so much time outdoors. As I learned more about the natural world, my biggest insight is that: It’s been there all along, I just didn’t notice! Now I do and am immersed in it. I look forward to following your blog and making use of the educational material. Besides volunteering, I now have a part-time naturalist position at a nearby park, and I’ve started a neighborhood nature group.

    • Good for you, Neita. I would love to be doing that if I could get out of working full-time. Some day. Keep up the good work and thanks for the kind words and checking in.–Monika

  11. I love the Monarchs and learning more about them. My dream is to see them migrating in large numbers and my husband said he would take e somewhere for our anniversary in February. Can you tell me which area would be the best place to go in the U.S. and is February a good time to see spring migration?

  12. I’d like to know the answer to that too, Monika, since apparently no one can tell me when/where to go to see the migration this Fall. I was in Michoacan in the end of January and that was definitely too early and cold.

  13. Hi there,

    Do you happen to be someone or know of someone who fixes broken butterfly wings? I found a great website in which a guy explains how to do so (but he lives in Boca Raton) and I’m afraid I’ll only make it worse if I try. I found a monarch butterfly who appears as if a cat found him first. I just want to help the poor guy get a second chance at flying.


  14. Hi I have written a wonderful children’s book about a true story my son and I had with a Monarch that we rescued in the US Midwest in Oct. She lived 3 months with us and then we took a very special journey with her. I have presented the book in English and Spanish and it is available on Amazon.com
    I would love to partner with an organization that could purchase a quantity to distribute to Mexican children living in the Micheocan region. Many of them do not go to school but there this story could be distributed thru Mexican organizations such as WWF . I have approached them but never get response. Any ideas?? I can email you a small file of the book if you would like to read it and send me your email address.
    Thanks Mariosa

  15. Monika, I am a 2nd grade teacher and we study the life cycle of insects and particularly butterflies. We received some caterpillars and are watching the life cyle process in our classrooms. As a celebration of our learning we are having a Butterfly Festival on April 19 at our school. We would like to have an expert come and set up a table and some sort of exhibit and speak to the kids about butterflies. Would you or someone you know be willing to come be part of our butterfly festival?

    Jodie Meyer

  16. Hey Monica,

    I am new to the butterfly deal here in SA. I have just finished a butterfly hotel near the medical center. I would like to do butterfly, hummingbird and bee raised bed garden construction demonstrations. Who should I get in touch with ?

    Thanks ,,,,,, JBBoykin

    • Patricia, try the Zilker Butterfly Garden. Also, check out the Austin Butterfly Forum. They meet once a month and sometimes organize tours and outings. Have fun!

  17. Hello! I am writing an article for Edible Austin about the monarchs and the impact of their migration on the food systems in Central Texas. (I was inspired by “Flight of the Butterflies”!). I would love to talk to you as it seems you are all-wise as to the very subject! I saw that you suggested Austin Butterfly Forum in a previous comment, I will definitely check that out too.

    Thank you for your time!
    Cari Marshall

  18. This is my first time trying to help butterflies. I ordered a cage on line and am buying a dozen milkweed plants tomorrow. I ordered eggs/caterpillars on line and thought they would wait until cool weather to send them to me but was notified that they’re on their way. Can they survive in this Austin heat?
    do I need to put them in my refrigerator for a while to keep them cool? Should I mist the plants every day to be sure they’re juicy? Help! The “babies” are due very soon!

    • The breeder will likely send the caterpillars with ice to keep them fresh. They should also supply directions on their care, so ask your supplier. Mthanks for writing. MM

  19. I am part of a company opening s new hospital in the Oct -Nov 2013 time frame. A balloon release is out of the question but we are thinking of alternatives. A butterfly release has come up and we really like this idea. We do not however know if it’s possible or even where to start looking. Can you help me with this ? Thank you ……


  20. This morning I discovered a huge tomato hornworm on my tomato plant in its Growbox. Then I saw more, in all sizes, as I photographed the munching huge ones, with their faces inside a green tomato &on leaves. I will let them have the plants. How long before they leave or become moths? Your website is wonderful. I can’t stop watching them… pat

    • Thanks for the kind words, Pat. I honestly don’t know everything about the Sphinx moth life cycle. They drop to the ground and burrow under the earth a little bit and I’m betting they can be unpredictable in their emergence. Perhaps our friend Google has the answer? She knows everything. Thanks for writing. MM

  21. Of ten eggs ordered on line, I had 7 caterpillars until last night. This morning I awoke to two dried up and dead on the floor of the cage. Two were on the ground curled up but alive, one is unaccounted for. The other two are still on the tropical milkweed plant and seem to be okay. The seven had devoured the first plant and I put in a second one (potted but from outside). I now notice there is scale on the bottoms of the leaves of the new plant. Is that what killed the cats? Thank you.

  22. I have just had the same problem and only thing I can think of is maybe my milkweed is tough and old at the end of the seAson. They arrived from Butterfly Lady in perfect condition. (I had just had Painted Lady cats and they all lived and two mated before I gave them to a school and they released them.)

  23. Hello – this is a wonderful website & resource! Thank you.

    We read about the tomato caterpillar on your site. My son found it today. It was on a moon flower plant and happily eating away. But we are in Ohio and it is now mid-Oct. Do you know what they do in the fall to winter over? It is quite large arleady, so I assume it is close to burying itself. My son would like to try to keep it and see it emerge and then release, but we don’t want it to emerge in the winter and have nothing to eat…

    Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated!

    • HI Amy, I believe the Hornworms can overwinter in the soil. They drop down and burrow in the soil a bit and eclose, or hatch, when conditions are favorable. If you want to try and do it inside where you can watch, get a cage and have potting soil in it and they will do their thing right in there. I have never been able to do it successfully, but others have told me it’s possible. Also, consult the Google. She knows EVERYTHING! Good luck! Monika

  24. Hi Monica – This spring, we planted several butterfly plants in our Houston garden. Sadly, it didn’t attract the butterflies we expected. Then in September, I discovered one small monarch caterpillar on the Asclepias (butterfly weed). We excitedly watched/photographed his growth stages through chrysalis to butterfly. Last week I discovered another huge cat and one tiny cat on the same plant. Yesterday, I found another 5 small cats on that same plant! I’m worried b/c there aren’t enough leaves remaining on that plant for that many cats. I purchased another plant yesterday, planning to plant it beside the original–but I’m worried the nursery may have used pesticides b/c there were no cats on any of the 20 plants they had. Can the plants be washed to remove pesticides? Can the cats be moved to other plants (the same plants are growing in my backyard)? I’d appreciate any tips you have to share…

  25. Hi Monika,
    What a great site! You might be able to help… I’m working on a documentary about the monarch, but it has a special angle. I’m filming people who have seen them when someone has passed away, and their link to Day of the Dead in Mexico. Here’s a site that explains it: http://www.the-journey-film.com.

    I’m wondering if you can help me get the word out to your list? I’m wondering what other stories might be out there.

    Thank you in advance,

  26. We want to plant some milkweeds on our 20 acres east of Austin in Blackland Prairie soils. I’ve seen antelope horn milkweeds growing in roadsides, but they’re mowed before seed set. Is there a local source for seeds?


    • Hi Sharon, I just found this site so I hope you’ve already discovered: http://monarchwatch.org/milkweed/market/
      At the bottom of the page is a map of the U.S. Find your location and the table shows what native milkweeds grow in your area. I live near Dallas and we have Green Antelopehorn Milkweed. You can purchase seeds or plugs (32 in a flat). Happy planting!

  27. Hi, your site is inspirational, thank you. I’m in the UK and right now we’re experiencing a very early spring/mild winter so the butterflies are out but their flowers aren’t. We’re encouraging home-made feeders and are making food for them. Once upon a time I was sure I’d seen something about people putting up lots of feeders in their gardens to help sustain the Monarchs on their migration – I know there are Hummingbird feeders put up but thought I’d seen the butterfly ones. Do you, or anyone reading this, know anything about this and where we can find information? It’s to inspire people and see what can be done.
    Thank you so much.

  28. Pingback: Make Room In Your Garden to Help Save the Monarch Butterfly. | Ravenscourt Gardens

  29. planning to make a trip to Wild Seed Farms; would like to find your “ranch.”
    Please give dates for any events (your calendar is empty)

    Dr. Cindy

      • Great. I belong to the Westside Lions Club which is part of International Lions that is a nonprofit organization helping our local community with sight issues. I am responsible for obtaining interesting speakers for our meetings. I need a speaker for April 1st or June 3rd. We meet at Lisa ‘s Restaurant on Bandera Rd. Near Wpodlawn. You would be our guest for dinner. Your presentation would be shortly after 7pm. Please let me know if you are available either of those dates. Thank you for your considertion. Letty

  30. I found your page today and loved it! I wanted some advice–I travel a lot for business and recently restarted raising monarch butterflies again….as I LOVE them. However, I literally have about 70+ caterpillars and my lil some that I put the plants in is just too small. Is there a better dome that is taller to fit more plants in? I have friends who can help out when I travel but desperately need some quick help on getting a new mesh freestanding system. Can you please advise so I can quickly order and get this set up before my next trip?

    I have many more questions but this is the most pressing. Thanks in advance! ~ Tanya

    • Just Google “pop up cages” and you’ll find plenty of vendors that sell them. People use them for butterflies, but also for plant storage, like a temporary greenhouse. I have a really big one that’s about 4 x 6 feet that I have used when leaving for vacation, putting all the milkweed and fennel pots in there to let the caterpillars feast in my absence. Good luck!

  31. I have just had 4 monarchs hatch from their cocoons. I still have 2 tohatch Are you inteinterested in them? I don’t want to keep them in the butterfly home long.

  32. I am rooting some milkweed like suggested. On the stems I cut I found 2 cats eating away. I will keep them with the stems as they seem very happy. They are on my shady porch.

  33. Thank you so much for the butterfly referral website. If I’m successful, I’ll fill you in on our Elementary school-wide project.

  34. Thank you for your site and your posts. I have started a movement in our rural town “Zapata, TX” to create a Butterfly & Pollinator Garden. Saving Monarchs is the biggest priority. The efforts have taken this movement to adopt a park with a pond and create the garden there. During all this process, your Site has been the one I mostly visit for information. This project is underway, and volunteer steered. Thanks!

  35. For what it’s worth, I swear I saw synchronized lightning bugs (i.e., “fireflies”) in a ravine very near the house where I lived in Guatemala in 1979. I was not drinking or smoking anything. This was in a small town named Cantel, just outside of Quezaltenango.

    In June 1976 crossing the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (Mexico) by train, about 2:00 AM from the rear of the train I saw millions of lightning bugs. It was awesome!

    A friend of mine thinks he is seeing monarch butterflies around here this month. Are they here right now?

  36. Hi Monika,
    I love your blog and fantastic photos of the butterflies! Butterflies are part of what inspires me to make nature jewelry and head pieces. I’d love to be featured on your blog. You can see pictures of our products on the website. Thank you for your time.

    Best Regards,

    Abby Oglesby
    Office Manager, Public Relations
    Mother Earth Beadwork and Boutique LLC

  37. I am an organic horticulturist in Dallas, TX and I grow many species of native Texas plants, including Asclepias. At the moment I have Asclepias viridis and Asclepias curassavica, both are grown 100% organically and ‘yes’, they have aphids……and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have tons of beneficial insects that prey on the aphids and this creates a de faco beneficial insect nursery! Syrphid fly larvae pupate right on the plant, after they have devoured hundreds and cleaned the plant completely. If anyone in my area needs organic, pesticide-free milkweed please contact Randy Johnson Organics on Face Book……

  38. I love your work with Monarch butterflies.

    My Gompho Physocarpa (Swan Plant) is bearing almost a thousand viable seeds. I’m hoping to give them away to other Monarch enthusiasts for the cost of a self-addressed stamped envelope.

    I’m very disappointed that I had only one Monarch visiting my Butterfly Garden up to date.

  39. Hi, planning a Monarch Unit for this fall for my 4 year old twins. Wondering if there are any places that are good for seeing them come through? Don’t mind a bit of a drive– we’re in SA. Can’t find anything advertised, but would think Wildflower Center or parks might have something. Thanks for your help!

  40. SaveOurMonarchs.org is dedicated to donating 100,000 Milkweed Seed Packets in 2014.

    Over 60,000 have already been donated through various institutions, including Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Como Conservatory, Butterfly House, and Garden Clubs of America.

    Additional organizations along the Monarch Migration flyway are needed.

    Ward Johnson

  41. I am a homeschooling mom/nature enthusiast, we have been studying monarchs for 2 years now. It is not easy to do as we live in the mountains of colorado. But we have been able to watch all the stages of the monarchs including the pupa dance. We are participating in the monarch watch tagging program and OE parasite data collecting this year. We are taking a trip to visit my sister in Austin Texas in mid October and I am looking for some insider tips on where are great places to find the monarchs around Austin or San Antonio all the way to Corpus Christi. It would be amazing to see them all roosting in a pecan tree! We are ready to tag and test and our experience and knowledge will be passed on to the younger generation of children who are learning how important our job is as citizen scientists. Please contact me 303-883-7200 Kim

  42. Have been raising monarchs successfully for the past 3 or 4 years. Been a wonderful experience. Have been planting more milkweed year and year. Getting neighbors to do also. This year has been devastating. Had 20 + beautiful pillars and they all cocooned. Then they started dying in cocoons. Did some research, I think they were infested by a parasite. They were mostly raised by hand. My husband built a huge cage where I could rotate plants. These are 4 th generation. They have all died. Can you put me in touch with someone who lives in tomball, Houston area who could help me with this problem. So heartbreaking.

  43. I live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and have spent 2 summers helping to monitor Monarchs and milkweed plants on the Stonington Peninsula. In 2008 we went to the preserve in Michoacan and that started an interest in the Monarchs. It’s interesting having been on both “ends” of their journey. I read your article on Catalina Trail and was truly captivated by her story. I would like to subscribe to your blog and keep up with the Ranch’s activities. As a transplanted Texan and Hispanic its nice to keep up with the ‘warm’ news from the Hill Country, especially in the winter.

  44. About a year ago we moved into a new subdivision in League City. My daughters and I went for a walk and discovered a fairly large area of Green Milkweed growing in what I now have discovered will be a road. I tried to transplant a few of the plants, but no luck. Now make it clear, I am not advocating digging up native plants for personal use, but these plants will be killed next spring, and I would like to do what I can to save them.

    Can you give my any tips on transplanting them? There is a drainage close by but it gets mowed two or three times a year, so I thought about planting them in a more secluded area.

    My family has been raising tropical milkweed, butterflies and our share of aphids for the last 8 or 9 years. LOL

  45. Monika,
    We need a good source for milkweed plants. Hopefully the Native Milkweeds – not just the Tropical. Please send us any sources you have. Also – do you know anyone who can propogate milkweed? We have two Butterfly areas here at Hardberger Park (Butterfly Garden on the Blanco side) (Butterfly Meadow on the NW Military side). We need As Much Milkweed As We Can Afford!! We look forward to hearing back from you soon!
    Thanks – Gail Gallegos

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