San Antonio Makes Way for the Monarchs

The nation's first Monarch Champion City improves its butterfly habitat and celebrates the insects' annual winter migration to Mexico with an inaugural festival.

Butterflies aren’t the sort of thing that automatically come to mind when you think about San Antonio; you’re more likely to think of the Alamo, the River Walk or the city’s annual Fiesta celebration. But as it turns out, San Antonio is on the migratory path of Monarch butterflies—and that’s a big deal in terms of wildlife preservation.

Millions of the brightly colored butterflies, easily recognized with their orange and black colors, migrate through a swath of Texas that includes San Antonio in two distinct patterns: Beginning in mid-March, they fly northward to Canada from Mexico, then head south for the winter in September and October to Mexico’s Michoacán region.

Not all of them make it; they’re not supposed to. Four generations of butterflies will make the trek, pollinating flowers along the way.

“The population of Monarchs has changed dramatically over the last 20 years,” said Judit Green, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department urban wildlife biologist. In fact, it’s decreased nearly 90 percent. “The biggest threat to their numbers has been a loss of habitat from building or deforestation.”

When people encroach on the Monarchs’ natural habitats, they kill off the trees and plants Monarchs need to survive—and the primary purpose of these insects isn’t simply to be admired.

“One of every three bites of food we eat is pollinated by insects,” explained Monika Maeckle of the Texas Butterfly Ranch. “Bees are the master pollinators, but bees sting,” she said. “Monarchs, another pollinator, don’t sting, bite or cause allergic reactions. They’re magical.”

San Antonio Monarch Champion City

Consequently, saving them is a priority for the National Wildlife Federation which headed the Monarch Pledge initiative. San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor made news last year when she became the first mayor in the country to pledge to fulfill the NWF initiative’s 24 recommendations to make San Antonio more hospitable for the butterflies, from planting more native milkweed (their preferred food source) to converting abandoned lots to Monarch habitats.

San Antonio Monarch Champion City

This fall, the city hosts a series of events to educate and raise awareness about the Monarchs. On Oct. 22, the inaugural Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival at the Pearl will “celebrate [San Antonio’s] special place in the migration,” Maeckle said. Attendees can tag Monarch butterflies, watch a parade and enjoy foods and beverages made possible by insect pollinators. The event is free and open to public.

For Ramiro Cavazos, president/ CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the event is also “an opportunity to highlight the inherent interconnectedness of the U.S. and Mexico.” And as Mayor Taylor noted when she initially took the Monarch Champion City pledge, San Antonio has a long history of welcoming visitors of all kinds—including the winged orange and black ones that provide not only beauty, but an essential function in our lives.