"This morning we're gathered to celebrate the Monarch butterfly and the commitment we as a city have made to help the species survive," said Mayor Ivy Taylor, who wore her Monarch earrings and headband for the occasion.
The festival, which takes place in and around the Zoo's butterfly house, is free with zoo admission ($11.45 for seniors/kids and $14.25 for adults) and is taking place from Friday, March 4 to Sunday, March 6 from 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Attendees walked through the enclosed habitat that was filled with vibrant plants and trays of fruit for hungry butterflies. The free-flying butterflies are not shy – they landed on just about anyone who walked in the door, an experience that brought child-like smiles and enthusiasm to several City staff members, Mayor Taylor, and other visitors.
Representatives from a dozen local organizations have lent a hand in leading Monarch education efforts both at the festival and around the city and will be available at the Zoo during festival hours to answer questions about the butterflies and their unique presence in San Antonio.
Each visitor will be given free milkweed – a plant that serves as larval food for Monarchs – and nectar seeds to take home and plant to increase Monarch habitat in the city. Other native, butterfly-friendly plants also are available for purchase. The Zoo encourages guests to share the progress of their plants on social media using #milkweedwatch.
Monarch Fest was inspired by the National Wildlife Federation's (NWF) Mayors' Monarch Pledge which is a commitment to restore Monarch habitat and to encourage the community to do the same. Taylor took the pledge last December and announced that the NWF named San Antonio as the first Monarch Champion City, a special designation to cities that adopt and uphold all of the 24 specific actions suggested by the NWF for the preservation of the Monarch migration routes.
Arguably the most fun task is hosting an event to celebrate the insects and educate the public about how they can help in protecting the species as a whole. San Antonio can check that task of its list this weekend.
Taylor's commitment to the pledge was clear when she revealed her 2016 Fiesta medal Friday morning, that features a brightly-colored Monarch with the words "Monarch Champion City" below it.
The Monarch butterfly was adopted as the official Texas state insect in 1995, and San Antonio is a key stop in the butterflies' seasonal migration patterns. The Monarch's spring migration takes them north through San Antonio through the "Texas funnel" north through the U.S. and Canada. In the fall, they return south to their "homes" in Mexico for the winter, passing once again through the funnel.
That's why initiatives like Monarch Fest and the other NFW actions are significant to the city, Taylor said, since some of our everyday actions have detrimental impacts on the natural environment.
"This is a way for us to stand up and say we want to do something positive in order to impact some of the other creatures that share the earth with us," she said.
The butterfly house will be free this weekend for the festival, and remains open through November. After Sunday, the usual $1.50 admission will apply. All proceeds from the butterfly house go to conservation and education efforts, said Tim Morrow, San Antonio Zoo CEO.
The Zoo is proud to host Monarch Fest, he added, and is hoping to continue it for many years to come.
"We hope that everyone keeps coming back and we hope that this event keeps getting bigger and bigger to bring awareness to Monarchs," Morrow said.