Texas is known for its wide open spaces, diverse ecosystems, wildflowers and wildlife. And wildlife can range from the largest mammal to the smallest insect. The most famous critter of them all may very well be the state insect: the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus).
Monarch butterflies have taken a beating in recent years. Deforestation in their winter hibernation grounds far up in the mountains near Michoacán Mexico and reduction in wildflowers and milkweeds due to drought have reduced their numbers. Known as much for their spring and fall migrations as their beauty, monarchs need access to nectar and larval food plants in the spring migration and access to nectar plants during the fall migration for survival and reproduction.
What can you do to help the monarch butterflies?
- Plant native milkweeds such as antelope horns or swamp milkweed in your landscapes to provide nectar for the adults and food for the developing caterpillars.
- If you purchase milkweeds at a nursery or garden center, make sure they have not been treated with systemic insecticides or the caterpillars will die after feeding on them. Sometimes aphid-infested milkweeds are a good thing!
- Plant nectar plants such as goldenrod, coneflowers, lantana, sunflowers and mistflowers to assure a source of nutrition and energy for adult monarch butterflies.
- Get involved with a monarch butterfly monitoring, tagging, and tracking program in your area.
A local source of information on monarch butterfly news, migrations and monitoring is the Texas Butterfly Ranch. You can also sign up for their e-newsletter to stay up to date on the latest monarch news.
For additional information and pictures of monarch butterflies, visit The Texas Butterfly Ranch.