A number of seniors show up when the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas holds Nature Nights and other activities to celebrate monarch butterflies during their fall migration. The monarchs and people who love them benefit from the seniors who volunteer their time to learn about these fascinating butterflies and participate in conservation events and projects.
Monarch Butterfly Migration Route
There is a one-hundred mile area between Eagle Pass and El Paso, Texas which the monarchs use as a flyway in their fall migration. This flyway includes butterflies from Canada, the northern United States including the Great Lakes area.
These amazing butterflies usually fly at 13,000 feet but occasionally have been spotted by pilots at 33,000. They cover about 50 miles per day. This is a major flyway where the monarchs land to rest up and feed in order to continue their trip to their Mexican stopping point.
This area has three things the butterflies need: a) the right climate, b) the right geography, with wide open spaces, and c) suitable vegetation, especially native milkweed. This area of Texas is one of the most important places for the monarch butterflies.
Seniors and other residents of this area are encouraged to plant butterfly-friendly plants to maintain a supply of energy for the journey. There is a great need for milkweed to help maintain the life cycle of the monarch butterflies. Such waystations are places they can land, have a feeding frenzy, then rest up a bit before continuing their flight.
They leave the Texas flyway around late October or early November when temperatures start dropping below 65 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature at which they begin to suffer. The fall migration of the monarch butterflies takes them to a mountainous area at 9,000 feet in the middle of Mexico to spend the four cold months each year. Over 90 million eggs are laid there, but many succumb to fire ants, predators, and herbicides.
Tagging of the Monarch Butterflies
Several groups, including the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, have activities to educate the public about migration of butterflies. They also enlist a number of seniors and boomers for the tagging events. The present system of microscopic tagging was developed by 3M and doesn’t come off in the rain or weigh down the butterflies. Tagging registers each individual butterfly and monitors their trip to see how many return, thus giving scientists vital information about the butterfly count at points along the way including Texas and Mexico.
Tagging of the monarchs started in 1976 when people became curious about their migration. There is always a need for volunteer naturalists and others to maintain butterfly gardens and to help with the tagging. Seniors are encouraged to plant butterfly-friendly gardens with their grandchildren to help pass the concepts of conservation on to future generations.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas
On Saturday, October 17, 2009, there was a lecture in the evening by a monarch expert who lives in Eagle Pass. Carol Cullar has also written the book Finding Butterflies in Texas. She has generously shared her expertise with the seniors and others who attended events in honor of the monarchs. The Wildflower Center provides continuing programs about butterflies and other topics of interest to senior naturalists and others committed to preserving nature.
Older adults are telling their friends and family members about the monarch butterfly migration waystations in Texas. A number of grandparents are taking their grandchildren so they can learn about the monarch migration route along the Texas flyway. Some even participate in the tagging of the monarch butterflies at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas as well as a few other events in the area. It might be worth looking into a nature trip by train or car.
Source: Information from Linda Currie and personal interview of Ann E. H. Tofft on October 21, 2009. Thanks to Linda for permission to use the wonderful pictures taken on her trip to the above events.