AUSTIN (KXAN) — Central Texas plays an important role in the migration pattern of many species — birds, bats, etc. Perhaps one of the most visually attractive migrations is that of the Monarch Butterfly, which typically graces our skies in the spring and fall.

Background

In the spring of 2016, six State Department of Transportations (DOTs) came together to help preserve the central corridor of the Monarch butterflies. Those six states include Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.

The DOTs in collaboration with the Federal Highway Administration signed a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ pledging to protect the Monarch’s habitat and raise awareness of the migrating insects.

Now nicknamed the ‘Monarch Highway’, the pathway of migration follows IH-35, stretching from Laredo, Texas to Duluth, Minnesota.

Monarch Butterfly Migration map (Courtesy: U.S. Forest Service)
Monarch Butterfly Migration map (Courtesy: U.S. Forest Service)

Timing

Spring migration begins in March as the butterflies start their journey north to northern Mexico, Texas and other southern states. It is here where they lay their eggs and the next generation beings.

Fall migration marks the Monarch butterflies’ return to the mountains of Central Mexico to spend the winter. Some butterflies travel up to 3,000 miles to make the trip home. This typically occurs in September, October and November.

How can you help?

Awareness is perhaps the easiest and one of the most effective ways to help the Monarch Butterflies. Supporting local land management and the involved DOTs can help keep the Monarch Highway program thriving.

On a more personal approach, providing a nurturing habitat for butterflies in your own backyard can be a beneficial way of supporting our winged friends. Monarch butterflies thrive on native milkweed and wildflowers. A few of these plants in your backyard, community garden or workplace landscape could help keep the Monarch butterfly population prospering.

Monarch butterfly sippig nectar from milkweed. COURTESY: Idaho Fish & Game

IN-DEPTH: The Monarch Butterfly population has seen a devastating drop in numbers over the last several decades. Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say that the Monarch population that typically winters in Central Mexico has dropped 88% from an estimated 383 million to just under 45 million. The Monarchs that typically spend winter in southern California have dropped even further, down 99%, from 4.5 million to 1,914 monarchs.

Are these butterflies endangered?

In December 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service performed a 12-month study after a petition was made to add the Monarch Butterfly to the Endangered Species Act. After a “thorough review,” the agency said the listing is “warranted, but precluded” because of other higher-priority species. The evaluation of the Monarch Butterfly species is speculated to be up for discussion again in 2024.