It takes a village to keep the Monarch migration going.  That’s surely the case for “Butterfly Lady” Maraleen Manos-Jones, one female Monarch butterfly, butterfly researchers far and wide, a USDA inspector, Southwest Airlines and the San Antonio Botanical Garden.

Maraleen Manos-Jones, "Butterfly Lady"

Maraleen Manos-Jones, “Butterfly Lady” in Michoacan in 1977  –photo via Maraleen Manos-Jones

In South Texas, Monarch butterflies continue laying eggs, hatching caterpillars, and forming chrysalises well into November.  In fact, several caterpillars are noshing on milkweed leaves in my kitchen as I write this.  When they emerge from their chrysalises later this month, I’ll tag them and send them on their way to Michoacan where they can join their butterfly brethren for the winter.

But in upstate New York, late season Monarchs are problematic.   Maraleen Manos-Jones, author of The Spirit of Butterflies, lives in  Shokan, New York, about 100 miles north of the Big Apple.  She noticed a Monarch caterpillar forming its chrysalis in her butterfly garden on September 22.

Late blooming Monarch caterpillar forms its chrysalis

This caterpillar, as a butterfly, flies Southwest Airlines. The critter formed its chrysalis on Sept. 22 in upstate New York. –photo via Maraleen Manos-Jones

“Most adult monarchs had already started their southward migration,” Manos-Jones relayed via email.  By early October, the weather turned cold and she brought the chrysalis indoors.  On October 20th, a beautiful female Monarch butterfly emerged.

Often, late season Monarchs that remain in the chrysalis for more than two weeks can emerge with deformed wings.  Not this girl.  “She was a perfectly formed, large, brilliantly colored female,” said Manos-Jones.  Manos-Jones kept the Monarch in a net enclosure in her home, providing nectar from late season flowers from her gardens.

She hoped the Monarch could reunite with its sibling butterflies, but if released in upstate NY in October with temperatures in the 40s, the butterfly would perish.  “Butterflies can’t fly when the temperature is less than 55,”  said Manos-Jones, adding that cold weather, a lack of nectar sources, and then Superstorm Sandy made for  complications.

Net cage for Monarch butterfly in New York

Net/nectar cage for Monarch butterfly in New York –photo via Maraleen Manos-Jones

What to do?   Manos-Jones called Southwest Airlines to ask them to fly her and the Monarch butterfly south.  “The whole idea came to me slowly and organically,” said Manos-Jones. “There were many phone calls.” Manos-Jones was passed to the Southwest Airlines PR department.  “I spoke from my heart,” she said.  “They also checked out my ‘butterfly credentials.'”

A self-described performer, artist, educator and environmentalist, Manos-Jones has butterfly street cred to spare.  Smitten at an early age, she once camped with the Monarchs in Michoacan for weeks in the 70s, trying to find the location of the ancestral roosts along with cowboy entomologist Dr. Bill Calvert.  She has raised Monarchs for 40 years, been involved in Monarch conservation for decades, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the La Cruz Habitat Protection Project, Inc. and Forests for Monarchs.  She also offers butterfly garden consulting, butterfly tours, and in safer times, Monarch butterfly tours to Michoacan.

Ultimately, Southwest agreed to comp the 1950-mile flight for Manos-Jones and her precious cargo, from Albany, NY, to San Antonio, TX.   Southwest even assigned an on-flight escort to fly with Manos-Jones and record the trip.   Upon arrival in San Antonio, a Southwest Airlines video crew will be on hand to document the event.

Brooks Thomas, the PR representative for Southwest Airlines that arranged the “butterflight,” said it was impossible to say no to Manos-Jones.  “She’s pretty passionate,” he said.

“Maraleen is an original,” said Dr. Chip Taylor, founder of Monarch Watch.  “She’s one of a kind.”  Taylor advised Manos-Jones that transporting butterflies across state lines is illegal without a permit from the USDA, and put her in touch with government agent Wayne Wehling.  Wehling works with butterfly breeders and others regarding the legal moves of plants and insects around the country.  Manos-Jones will be in compliance, traveling with her permit.

Her butterfly will be safely ensconced in a glassine envelope provided by Dr. Lincoln Brower, one of the foremost researchers of Monarch butterflies in the world.  She’ll keep the butterfly calm, cool, in the dark, in a container lined with an ice pack and plenty of cushioning.

WHAT:  Release of Monarch Butterfly from New York
WHERE:  San Antonio Botanical Garden
The San Antonio Botanical Garden
555 Funston @ North New Braunfels Avenue
San Antonio, TX 78209
WHEN: 3:30 p.m., Monday, November 5, 2012
WHY:  We want it to have a chance to make it to Mexico
HOW CAN YOU HELP:  Plant milkweed, the Monarch butterfly host plant

The San Antonio Botanical Garden’s butterfly garden will be the stage for the release, with ample milkweed, asters, and other late season bloomers providing a nectar-filled backdrop for a successful release.
If you’d like to join us, the release will take place at 3:30 PM Monday, November  5.   Regular Botanical Gardens admission charges will apply.

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