In honor of the 7th annual Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival, the San Antonio Zoo’s storied mini locomotive has been converted into a monarch butterfly caterpillar for the month of October.

Costumed in distinctive black, yellow and white stripes with a set of antennae-like protuberances on either end, the five-car train is wending its way through Brackenridge Park, the venue for this year’s annual Festival.

San Antonio Zoo president and CEO Tim Morrow said the Zoo was delighted to participate in the train’s metamorphosis.

“San Antonio Zoo has long been working to secure a future for these butterflies through conservation efforts, planting of pollinator gardens around San Antonio and through hosting and supporting butterfly festivals. I hope guests enjoy this unique experience as it takes flight through Brackenridge park!”said Morrow.

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed

Designers at MP Studio used the monarch caterpillar as inspiration for the San Antonio Zoo’s Caterpillar Train. –Photo by Monika Maeckle

The San Antonio Zoo oversees the mini railroad’s operations year round.

The train-to-caterpillar conversion turned out to be no trivial undertaking, said Cecilia Garcia Hours, a principal of MP Studio, the San Antonio landscape architecture and design firm that stepped up to tackle the project.

Garcia Hours spearheaded the effort, working with a team of designers to develop a sustainable “costume” that could be re-used in the future.

The MP Studio team made several prototypes of the train, created panels for each of the segments, and customized the panel boards for the engine and the caboose.

Garcia Hours said the biggest design challenge was developing durable, well-fitting panels that accommodated passengers without damaging the train. The team ultimately decided to utilize different colors of polyrope  to replicate the stripes of the caterpillar.

“We enjoyed the process, and it was just really a great team effort,” she said, adding that she’s looking forward to taking her 8-year-old son, León Benite Hours, on a Caterpillar Train ride.

To kick off this year’s festivities, Mayor Ron Nirenberg will join the Festival at 10 AM this Saturday to tag a monarch butterfly. He’ll then hitch a ride in the front car of the Caterpillar Train before moving on to his next event.

caterpillar train panels

Cecilia Garcia Hours and Alexander Gonzalez of MP Studio show off the Caterpillar Train panels. –Photo by Monika Maeckle

The Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival runs 10 AM – 2 PM Saturday, October 8. The Festival is FREE and open to the public with an array of family friendly educational activities, including monarch butterfly tagging, a monarch migration obstacle course, dance, music, food trucks and more.

The San Antonio Zoo train has been running since 1956 and ranked as the longest miniature railroad in the world at the time. It was also the scene of a famous train robbery in 1970. 

The episode became known as “the Great (Little) Train Robbery” and was the first train robbery in the west in nearly 47 years. It’s also considered the last train robbery ever recorded in Texas.

“Two Bandits Rob Train in Park,” blared the July 19, 1970 San Antonio Express and News front page the day after the event.

Glenn Falcon, his mother and two brothers were on board that day. “They had pillow cases and you were supposed to throw your stuff in them. I threw my camera into the bushes to save it, but they took my billfold,” Falcon told the Express News in 2017 at age 81, recalling the incident.

Since its inception, the train has hosted more than a million passengers on the 18-minute, two-mile journey, which travels through the historic park 365 days a year, weather permitting, during Zoo hours. The train stops at the Witte Museum, Japanese Tea Garden and the Doseum.

The Caterpillar Train will run throughout October. Tickets are $6 per person for those over age 3. For Festival Day, October 8, the Zoo is offering a $1 discount on train rides and a $3 discount on their Zoo Funday pass. Train ticket details here.

Join us this Saturday at Brackenridge Park for the 7th annual Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival. It’s FREE.

TOP PHOTO:  The Caterpillar Train makes a training ride from the San Antonio Zoo train maintenance depot this week. –Photo by Alexander Gonzalez

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