Monarchs Return to Texas - Monarch Butterfly Day

Monarchs Return to Texas - Monarch Butterfly Day

In 2018, Fort Worth City Council proclaimed Oct. 6 as Monarch Butterfly Day. In 2019, Fort Worth, Texas was named as a Monarch Butterfly Champion City by the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayors’ Monarch Pledge program for its commitment to monarch conservation, becoming only the fourth city in North America to be recognized with the honor. Monarchs travel through Texas each year during their journey south to Mexico, but the monarch population has dwindled due to loss of habitat and native milkweed plants. To save the Texas state insect, the City of Fort Worth and the Fort Worth Zoo educate our community and encourage species-saving actions.

Each spring, millions of monarch butterflies begin a 3,000 mile journey north from Mexico. The butterflies will stop to lay eggs along the way. That generation will follow the lead north while also laying eggs along the route. By the time the migration to Canada is complete, four to five generations will have joined the journey. As the weather cools, the monarch starts its journey back to Mexico. This multi-generational two-way journey is one of the most highly evolved migration patterns of all insects.

A female monarch lays 300 to 500 eggs on milkweed plants over a two- to five-week period. After three to five days, the eggs hatch into a caterpillar. After two weeks of eating milkweed, the caterpillar spins a protective case called a chrysalis. After about another week, the insect emerges as an adult monarch butterfly. An adult butterfly gets its food from nectar plants and flowers. The nectar from these plants provide energy for breeding, its migratory journey and reserves for the winter.

Pollinators of all types are threatened by habitat alteration and pesticide use. Since the 1990s, the monarch population has declined by 970 million monarchs by 2015.  Because monarchs rely solely on milkweed plants as a place to lay eggs and as caterpillars’ only food source, the habitat loss is critical. Additionally, if there are no blooming plants to collect nectar from, they will not have enough energy to continue their migration.

But where do we fall into this? Texas plays two vital roles: millions of monarchs pass through Texas on their way to Mexico for the winter, and in the spring, millions return to lay their eggs on our milkweed plants to create the next generation. Texas has the most native milkweed plants of any state - a total of 37 species. But the alteration of monarch habitat for urban development has reduced the numbers of these native milkweed species. Other threats include land management, such as mowing down native plants and the use of pesticides.

The Fort Worth Zoo is actively involved in conserving monarchs both at the Zoo and around the city to aid in the monarch’s migrations through north Texas. The Zoo continues to plant and maintain pollinator/native plant areas in and adjacent to the Zoo where guests can view pollinators in action with native plants.

Significant highlights: 

  • Seven pollinator grow zones are maintained at the Zoo, with two additional areas to be seeded this fall
  • Seeded many behind the scenes areas of the Zoo with native plants
  • Plans to seed five pounds of native grass called prairie wildrye, an important food source for many pollinators, in the restoration site along the Trinity River in the next two weeks
  • Planted 20 milkweed plugs in the Zoo’s pollinator area in the front parking lot
  • Monarch monitoring project has increased its number of tagged monarchs to 100

There are many ways you can contribute to the longevity of this species and make a difference. Planting native wildflowers and leaving designated areas of your yard “ungroomed” will attract pollinators and including milkweed in your garden can encourage monarch reproduction. For more ways to get involved in Fort Worth, visit The Mayor’s Monarch Pledge.

Learn about seven things you can do for pollinators here.