San Antonio celebrates third annual Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival at Pearl

Mother Nature took a short break from the rainiest autumn in memory to celebrate the third annual Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival on Sunday.

The three-day Festival rallied as the clouds parted, the sun shone and temperatures hovered in the 60s. The weather was just warm enough for hundreds of monarch butterflies and thousands of visitors to celebrate the monarch butterfly migration and all wildlife pollinators.

Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival 2018 from Rivard Report on Vimeo.

A People for Pollinators Parade kicked off the festivities Sunday morning.

Dozens of participants had their wings on, some with their faces painted butterfly-style. They filed into the procession at the Historic Pearl complex. As they moved down Pearl Parkway, 20+ Festival education partners watched from their booths, offering native plants, wildflower seeds, a pollinator gardening workshop, monarch butterfly life cycle education and a greater understanding of the insect pollinators that make one of every three bites of our food possible.

Erin Ashley Gomez helps Festival goer get her wings on. Photo by Lisa Marie Barocas

Honey bee farmer Rick Fink of Bandera Bees brought his demonstration hive for a show-and-tell. The glass-paneled bee hive allows visitors a peek inside the busy and highly organized social life of the average honey bee community.

An ad-hoc music making clan and colorful, big-headed Cabezudos led the parade, as young volunteers organized by the local Mariposa Chapter of the National Women’s Charity League broke into a Waggle Dance in front of the stage in Pearl Park. The Waggle Dance is how bees communicate with each other regarding the location of the best nectar patch.

After the parade, docents trained by Nectar Bar owner Drake White moved into the crowd to demonstrate how to tag a monarch butterfly. About 700 monarchs were tagged, their sex recorded and released as part of the Monarch Watch citizen science tagging program that tracks the butterflies’ multi-generation trek to Mexico.

“Five of our butterflies made it to Mexico last year,” said White, who has worked the Festival each of its three years. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed that these do the same.”

Rick Fink of Bandera bees, explains the intricacies of the social community of European honey bees. Photo by Monika Maeckle

“It’s such a good atmosphere, family friendly and fun,” said Yaya Diallo, who drove in from the Medical Center to enjoy the festivities, a monarch butterfly perched on his hat. Diallo, his wife and two small children had so much fun at last year’s Festival they made a point to come back this year.

Jake Bartley, age 12, traded persimmons for a Festival t-shirt. Courtesy photo.

“It was cool tagging the butterflies and watching them fly off to Mexico. We named our butterflies, Whizzy & Bob!” said six-year-old Zealand Bartley, regarding his first bout with citizen science.

The official Festival t-shirt was a huge hit and sold out. Jake Markley, 12,  a young farmer who works with his family at Wild Roots, a succulents farm at the Pearl’s Farmer’s Market, was so enamored with our monarch life cycle t-shirt he requested a trade.

“Would you trade a bunch of persimmons for a t-shirt?” he asked. Absolutely! The pumpkin orange fruits are firm, sweet, and in season. Thanks, Jake!

For many, the highlight of the day was the noon butterfly release. Pre-tagged butterflies were housed in a Mariposa Pyramid, brought on stage at noon, and released after a countdown from 10 to one en español.

Tres, dos, uno,” cheered the crowd as emcee Adam Tutor led the celebration. The crowed roared and snapped photos as the sides of the pyramid flew open and the butterflies took to the sky.

The Festival began with a forum and luncheon on Friday, Butterflies without Borders: the monarch migration and our changing climate. A cross-section of leaders in the monarch butterfly world discussed climate change, border walls, the sustainability of the migration and pesticide abuse with moderator Robert Rivard, publisher and cofounder of the Rivard Report, which sponsored the event.

Monarch butterfly scientist Karen Oberhauser, founder of Monarch Joint Venture and currently the Director of the Arboretum at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, served as monarch butterfly science expert. She had lots of competition for interesting points of view from other panelists.

Oberhauser mixed caution with hope in predicting the future of the migration. “I really do think they’re going to survive all of this change,” she said, adding that monarchs are incredibly adaptable. The iconic insects are already present in Australia and other points south of the equator. “Australia is upside down so they have to fly north, but they do it.”

Robert Rivard, Rebeca Quiñonez Piñón, Marianna Treviño Wright, Carey Gillam and Karen Oberhauser discuss the monarch migration and our changing climate at Butterflies without Border Forum. Photo by Mike Quinn

Panelist Rebeca Quiñonez Piñón, monarch outreach coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation, pointed out the incredible resilience of monarchs and emphasized their role as an ambassador for less charismatic species.

Some of the most disturbing news came from Marianna Treviño Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center (NBC) in Mission, Texas.

Wright pointed out that the Trump Administration’s border wall, slated to plow through the NBC’s 100-acre preserve, will be located 1.2 miles from the actual border.

It will decimate many acres of habitat during construction, she said. She added that after completion, it will cut off many border residents access to the Rio Grande while serving as a trap when the river floods. “For animals, plants and people.”

Panelist Carey Gillam, author of Whitewash: the Story of a Weedkiller, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science, also left the audience with a sobering take on the pervasive use of pesticides, specifically the use of glyphosate and RoundUp Ready crops. The widespread adoption of Monsanto’s RoundUp ready crop system has had a devastating impact on monarchs, which historically have utilized milkweed growing in the corn and soy fields of the Midwest each summer as their primary breeding grounds. “We’re seeing the impact in very real ways – on the monarch, on the honey bees, on the soil, on our health,” said Gillam.

For full coverage of the Forum, see this story from the Rivard Report.

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Friday evening, the mood turned less serious and more celebratory as the Festival celebrated Holy Mezcal, Batman! at Confluence Park.

The FREE event combined art, photography from the Commission on National Biodiversity of Mexico, a bat talk by Fran Hutchins of Bat Conservation International, a Mezcal tasting and discussion by William Scanlan of Heavy Métl, and wildlife acoustics courtesy of Hutchins and Sarah Gorton. Chief Arts Docent of the Festival, Mónica del Arenal, introduced the art show, which included photos of more than 20 migratory creatures, as “the rhythm of the planet.”

Bats pollinate agave, which makes Mezcal and tequila possible.

On Saturday the Festival hosted two FREE teacher training workshops–one in English and one in Spanish. The workshops, led by Karen Oberhauser and Rebeca Quinonez-Piñón respectively, provided materials, instruction and inspiration for teachers to use monarch butterflies, native plants and pollinator gardens as teaching tools in the classroom.

Karen Oberhauser explains monarch butterfly migration and biology to San Antonio Independent School District teachers. Photo by Mike Quinn

“Thank you for doing it in Spanish,” said Angie Astorga, San Antonio Independent School District Bilingual Instructional Specialist, after attending the Mariposas sin Fronteras Spanish language workshop. “Teachers and staff need more professional development opportunities where information is presented in Spanish at the same equitable caliber as it often is the case in English.”

Also on Saturday, the San Antonio Botanical Garden (SABOT) presented an Incredible Edible Insect lunch, encouraging the eating of insects as food and feed. Culinary whiz Dave Terrazas and the SABOT team whipped up some amazing dishes using crickets, mopane worms and other insect ingredients. Kids gobbled them up.

Saturday evening, the National Wildlife Federation honored local monarch butterfly advocates associated with the Alamo Area Monarch Collaborative for the work we have all done in association with San Antonio’s status as the nation’s first Monarch Butterfly Champion City.

NWF recognized members of the Alamo Area Monarch Collaborative at a reception on Saturday night. L-R Joel Barna, Rebeca Quinonez Piñón, Monika Maeckle, Cathy Cowns, Laurie Brown, the Honorable Ana Sandoval, San Antonio District 7 Councilwoman

Sunday’s festivities at the Pearl served as the perfect capstone to the weekend of celebrating pollinators.  Thanks to all our sponsors, volunteers, friends and family. Save the dates for next year’s Festival, October 18-20, 2019.

See you there!

GRACIAS to our Keystone sponsors

HEB, The John and Florence Newman Foundation, Pearl, San Antonio River Authority, Rivard Report 

Ecosystem Sponsors

 The Winkler Family Foundation of Austin

Activist Sponsors

, National Wildlife Federation, San Antonio Water Service, Trinity University 

Citizen Scientist Sponsors

DK Seeds, Greenhaven Industries, Katy and Ted Flato, Steve and Marty Hixon, Lake Flato Architects, Monarch Joint Venture, National Butterfly Center, Native American Seed Company, the Nature Conservancy, Plateau Land Mangement, Plowshare Media 


And very special thanks to our education partners!

Bandera Bees * Bat Conservation International * Bexar County Master Gardeners * Bridge Projects * CRIT San Antonio * Douglass King Seeds * Gardening Volunteers of South Texas * Gardopia Gardens * Little Herds * Monarch Joint Venture * MP Studio * National Wildlife Federation * National Charity League Mariposa Chapter * The Nectar Bar * Rainbow Gardens Nursery * San Antonio Botanical Garden * San Antonio Natural Areas * San Antonio Zoo * Shades of Green Nursery * University of Texas at San Antonio * Witte Museum


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