Texas becomes a key player in a three-nation effort to help critical pollinators survive.
By Louie Bond
Each year, in one of nature’s most astonishing displays of animal behavior, millions of monarchs travel 2,000 miles north from their wintering grounds in Mexico to Canada, then head back south in October, a single process that spans four generations of butterflies. Texas serves as a welcoming pit stop along the route, providing not only nourishment through native flora but also a nursery for monarch eggs laid by the orange-and-black travelers.
In May, President Barack Obama announced a national strategy to make Interstate 35 a 1,500-mile “pollinator corridor” to bring back honeybees, monarchs and other pollinators. The U.S. Department of Transportation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will help rehabilitate butterfly habitats along the federal highway that extends from the Texas-Mexico border to Duluth, Minn.
Why is this initiative so important? These insects pollinate three-quarters of all plant life, a process critical to one of every three bites of our food.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto hosted the North American Leaders Summit (sometimes referred to as the “Three Amigos Summit”) in Toluca, Mexico, in 2014 and asked Canada and the U.S. for help in restoring the monarch population that winters in Mexico. Each country formed a high-level working group to develop its own action plan. TPWD Executive Director Carter Smith is the only state wildlife agency representative serving on the U.S. group.
“Texas is a pivotal U.S. state for monarch butterfly conservation,” says Michael Warriner, TPWD’s nongame animal program leader. “As they move northward, they need resources in the form of host plants for caterpillars and nectar from flowers. During fall migration southward, they need nectar from flowers to fuel their trip and fatten themselves for winter in the mountains of Mexico.”
The bad news for monarchs: There’s far less to eat along the way now than ever before.
The good news: You can help!
“Texans across the state can make contributions to monarch conservation and support populations of native pollinators by simply providing good-quality, flowering native plants in their yards or on their ranches,” Warriner says. The monarchs can increase their weight almost 3,000 times in 10 to 15 days when milkweed and other native flowering plants are available to them.
When you plant your own butterfly garden, you’ll get more than just the satisfaction of helping monarchs survive. Watch a variety of flowers bloom throughout warm months, and then sit back and enjoy the many creatures coming to visit — hummingbirds, bumblebees and a dazzling array of other winged beauties.
And there’s still more you can do. Become a citizen scientist and assist vital research efforts by reporting on the monarch-friendly flora near you. The first step is to check in online at www.inaturalist.org/projects/texas-milkweeds-and-monarchs and click on “add observations.”
“We need to know what milkweed status is, what species are out there and where,” Warriner says.
While the monarchs need milkweed, there are a variety of other plants you can include in your garden to keep all kinds of pollinators happy. Choose a diverse array of plants that flower at different times to attract butterflies throughout the growing season. Plants that bloom early help during spring migration; late bloomers like goldenrod, many asters and blazing stars are critical for the monarch’s long fall migration. (Learn more at tpwd.texas.gov/wildscapes.)
Imagine the colorful, fluttering world of wonder we can all enjoy for years to come by just planting a few seeds now!
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