On Thursday close to 100 people streamed into the halls of the Instituto Cultural de México‘s Monarch-inspired exhibition to learn about the mystical nature of Monarch butterflies and their vulnerable migration route.

The day marked the beginning of the three-day Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival, which will continue with events on Friday and Saturday at the Pearl.

Instituto Cultural Director Mónica del Arenal invited Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) and Consul General of Mexico in San Antonio Héctor Velasco Monroy to offer brief remarks before the discussion.

“I was thinking that nature is wise,” Velasco said. “Monarch butterflies fly between United States and Mexico even with walls that humans put there. I hope we follow their example.”

San Antonio’s importance in the Monarch butterfly migration route has to do with it’s placement in the “Texas Funnel,” said Monika Maeckle, organizer of the festival and founder of Texas Butterfly Ranch. The Monarchs make their way through Texas enroute to and from their roosting grounds in Mexico in the spring and fall.

Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival Organizer Monika Maeckle prepares a slideshow for the audience.
Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival Organizer Monika Maeckle prepares a slideshow for the audience. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Treviño commended Mayor Ivy Taylor for spearheading San Antonio’s designation as the first official “Monarch Champion City” in the United States. Taylor was unable to attend the event but made an appearance via video and welcomed everyone to the festival.

“I want to do my part to teach the future generations that the fate of the Monarchs is in their hands,” Treviño said, adding that conservation requires continual effort. “That is why, in partnership with San Antonio Zoo, I set aside $350 per school … to have the San Antonio Zoo install butterfly gardens in all 16 District 1 elementary schools.”

The gardens are a way to teach children about the milkweed plant that Monarchs choose to lay their eggs on and the importance of helping them fuel for their journey.

Maeckle, who raises butterflies in her mariposario at her family’s Llano River ranch said that Monarchs are a great ambassador for other pollinators, as one of the things that makes them so engaging is their “beautiful life cycle,” the transformation from a creamy egg dot to a black, white, and green striped caterpillar to a majestic butterfly. She went on to explain the stages of that transformation, and urged the audience to help support Monarch migration by planting milkweed and nectar plants.

“In the U.S. we have this program run by the University of Kansas, whereby we … catch the butterflies in a net and put these little stickers on them,” she said.

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Through this system, other “citizen scientists” like her create a database of the tagged butterflies and this way they piece together the migration puzzle.

According to forester and researcher Cuauhtémoc Sáenz Romero, issues stemming from climate change like warmer temperatures and the lack of humidity for the Oyamel trees in Michoacán are beginning to negatively affect the Monarch Butterfly roosting sites, and in the future, could greatly obliterate the current migration pattern.

“Climate Change and the Monarch Butterfly Migration Symposium” will take place at the the Pearl Studio, located at 200 E. Grayson St., Friday night from 6-8 p.m. Tickets have sold out.

Cuauhtémoc Sáenz Romero describes the impact of climate change through forests and individual trees.
Cuauhtémoc Sáenz Romero describes the impact of climate change through forests and individual trees. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Additional issues like illegal logging, pesticides, and industrial agriculture also have affected the butterflies and vastly reduced the population.

“Stressed trees are easily attacked by pests and disease,” Sáenz said. “This is already happening, many trees have the open part of their crown dead.”

He proposes a radical action to “move the forest” up 300 meters in altitude by gathering the seeds of the Oyamel trees in Michoacán and engaging in a reforestation effort.

“We need to act now. If not, the forests (over time) will become like a Savannah – just grassland,” he explained. “I know it sounds radical but our models indicate this is what we have to do.”

Photographer Ignacio Arcas describes his path to photographing Monarch butterflies.
Photographer Ignacio Arcas describes his path to photographing Monarch butterflies. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Through the quality his photography, nature photographer Ignacio Arcas said he hopes to inspire people to join in on the conservation of species at risk, especially Monarch butterflies.

“I can’t talk to a Chinese person if I don’t know Mandarin or a Soviet if I don’t know Russian but I can show him a photograph of a whale lying on the beach with a net and he will understand it,” he said in Spanish. “To create a response from the spectator … this is important to generate awareness.”

Arcas also recounted how difficult and complicated it is to photograph migratory species in the wild. He emphasized that the well-being of animals and following rules always comes first before getting that perfect photo.

Maeckle reminded everyone that the cooperation of the three countries involved in the path of the Monarch migration – Mexico, the U.S., and Canada – is pivotal for conservation efforts.

“In this very moment that we’re in politically, in this very divisive election year… perhaps we can all agree that the Monarch migration is something (worth) saving and something that can bring us together rather than divide us,” she said.

Rocío Guenther

Rocío Guenther

Rocío Guenther worked as a bilingual reporter and editorial assistant for the Rivard Report from June 2016 to October 2017. She is originally from Guadalajara, Mexico and holds a bachelor's in English...