They are little wonders of nature.  Colorful Monarch butterflies migrate thousands of miles.  Their journey is full of dangers.  Somehow, nature elegantly imprints an intricate navigation program that leads them exactly where they need to go.

At this time of the year, San Angelo is right in the middle of the great monarch flyway.

Not quite sure if the butterflies you see fluttering by are Monarchs?  Because of their large frame these brightly colored butterflies have wingspans of 4 inches or slightly more. They have a deep orange shade with thick black stripes on their wings and white spots on the edges. As a result, Monarchs are quite distinctive.

Only one other butterfly resembles them and that is the Viceroy, but they have a black stripe in the middle of their hindwinds that Monarchs don't have, they fly more erratically while Monarchs glide, and Viceroys don't migrate.

Monarchs' fall migration to their warmer wintering grounds in the Transvolcanic Mountain range of Central Mexico cover 3000 miles depending upon how far north they are travelling from.  Monarch butterflies are the only butterflies capable of making this journey.  They travel between 4 and 12 miles an hour and can cover 25-30 miles a day.

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How do they know where to go and how to get there?  This is one of the great mysteries of nature. There is some evidence to suggest that the use the position of the sun to keep their bearings. Other evidence suggests they have an inherited map as part of their genetics.  No one really knows, but science continues to study the question.

Monarch butterflies migrate through Texas in the Fall on a 300 mile wide path from Wichita Falls to Eagle Pass. San Angelo is right in the middle.

Unfortunately, the numbers of Monarch butterflies have been dwindling. Estimates are that up to 75% of their numbers have disappeared over the last ten years. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has added the Monarch butterfly to the list of endangered species.

Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unspla
Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

There is something you can do to create a Monarch Waystation to help the butterflies flutterby. A Monarch waystation just needs a nice crop of milkweed. You'll want to place it in an area that gets at least six hours of sunlight a day.  Several native Texas Milkweed species include, Clasping Milkweed, Englemann's Milkweed, Pink Milkweed and Butterflyweed.  You can add other butterfly-friendly flowers to provide the butterflies with nectar.

Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash
Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash

Here in San Angelo, if you want to watch the Monarchs flutterby one of the best locations is San Angelo State park. The butterflies are at their peak now for the next few weeks. You can also check out the Tom Green County 4-H building on Highway 67.  they have a very nice butterfly waystation where you can watch the beautiful Monarchs.

It's hard to imagine a world where beautiful Monarch butterflies no longer dance through the skies on brightly lit blue-skyed West Texas Fall days. We should all resolve to plant some milkweed and flowers to help make sure our area remains squarely on their path.

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