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The Magnificent Monarch

Scientists don’t fully know why the North American Monarch undertakes an epic 3,000-mile journey across the continent, but scientists do know that it’s the only one like it in the Butterfly world.

Without using GPS or Siri, these magnificent butterflies travel from the northern states and even Canada down to their overwintering grounds to the Oyamel fir forests in Central Mexico. This tiny 30x60 square mile section can be found along 12 isolated mountaintops in Michoacan. It takes several generations of the Monarch to complete its migration cycle, so this route is somehow stamped into their DNA. Some generations of Monarchs last 2-4 weeks, eating and reproducing, until we get the “super-generation” which can live up to nine months. This is the one that will migrate in the fall and make the journey south.

When it arrives in Michoacan, it will not eat nor will it reproduce until the very end of its life when they begin the journey north all over again. While in Mexico, these Monarchs will join together in roosting groups on trees and survive on stores of fat that they have accumulated by drinking nectar on their way south. They need to eat as much as they can along the way.

Laredo is blessed to fall along the Monarch path.

Mexicans call this marvel “la gran viajera” and many believe that she brings back spirits when she’s returning home to Mexico around Dia de los Muertos.

Either way, this unique creature is in trouble. Population numbers have decreased by 80-90 percent and scientists say that if we don’t act now and take dramatic actions, this butterfly may disappear in 20 years’ time.

It’s unclear what exactly is causing its rapid disappearance but loss of habitat and food sources is at the top of that list. Two major factors include:

• Illegal logging and deforestation in Mexico
• Heavy use of herbicides and chemicals in industrialized agriculture in the American Midwest destroying crucial milkweed and other nectar plants. (Monarchs can’t survive without milkweed- it is the ONLY plant they lay their eggs on and that their caterpillars eat.

“Individuals can change things…If everyone will just do their little part, then we can make a tremendous difference in the lives of other people.”
– Sarah Purcell, American writer

Create Your Own Butterfly Garden!

Interested in supporting the monarch butterfly and other pollinator populations? Creating your own butterfly garden is an easy way to help!

Start by selecting native plants that will do well in your backyard that will attract and host local butterfly populations. Some examples of drought tolerant plants that provide nectar for butterflies and pollinators include the purple coneflower, agarita, cenizo, flame acanthus, kidneywood, pink mimosa, lantana, and salvias. Vines like honeysuckle, crossvine, and passion flower make great additions too. Butterflies are guided to nectar sources by colors and patterns, so plants with pink, orange, yellow, and purple flowers are a good choice.

Here are the plants we used in our monarch butterfly garden as recommended by the National Butterfly Center:
• Betony mistflower
• Crucita
• Ruellia
• Texas/west Indian lantana
• Velvet lantana
• Sage
• White brush
• Heliatroph (scorpion’s tail)
• Low croton
• Yellow sophora
• Fiddlewood
• Mexican capreria
• Flame acanthus
• Frog fruit
• Zizotes
• and of course, a butterfly favorite, native Milkweed!
Having milkweed is a must in any monarch butterfly garden because this is the ONLY plant that they use to lay their eggs. Plus, monarch caterpillars love to eat milkweed! And don’t worry- the leaves and flowers will grow back!

Other good ideas include having flat rocks in sunny spots in your garden for your butterfly visitors to rest on- because traveling 3,000 miles is hard work! You can also provide a shallow source of water for these pollinators using a pie pan filled with gravel and water. Having a fence or a wall nearby is useful for protecting butterflies from the wind, and a thick hedge makes a good shelter for these creatures at night.

And of course, keep your garden safe for our local pollinators by refraining from using any pesticides or chemicals!
Interested in getting involved with our local monarch gardens?

Join us the 1st Saturday of every month at 10 am for regular garden maintenance!

Visit our Monarch Gardens at:
Haynes Health and Wellness Center
(2102 Clarks Crossing Dr., left at the tennis courts)

Eliseo Valdez Jr. Park
(Corner of Jefferson St. and San Francisco Ave.)

Coming soon:
Pollinator Paradise Garden at the Laredo Water Museum
(2702 Anna Ave.)

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1 West End Washington St. Bldg P-11
Laredo, Texas, 78040
Rio Grande International Study Center is a certified 501(c)3 nonprofit organization
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