If you haven't visited the San Antonio Zoo in a while, this weekend's Monarch Fest offers a good reason to do so.
The three-day celebration coincides with the recent good news that the Monarch butterfly population has tripled since last year and the fact that millions of Monarch butterflies will soon head our way as they depart their winter roosting grounds in Michoacán, Mexico. Each spring, Monarchs pass through San Antonio on their multi-generation migration that begins in Mexico in March, moves north through the U.S. to Canada and finishes in October when the offspring of this first generation return to the Alamo City as they make their way back "home" to Mexico for the winter.
The Zoo's Monarch Fest, a first, will celebrate this grand journey with educational booths, activities, a native plant sale and seed exchange, and a live butterfly house featuring exotic and native butterflies. A dozen local organizations will be on hand from 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday through Sunday to educate visitors about the Monarch butterfly migration and the importance of pollinators.
The event also allows Mayor Ivy Taylor to check one more item off her Mayor's Monarch Pledge action item list. Mayor Taylor took the ambitious pledge in December and made San Antonio the first, and to date, only Monarch Champion City in the country by pledging to act on all 24 recommendations made by the National Wildlife Federation to increase Monarch and pollinator habitat. Number 8 on the list: stage a local butterfly festival. Mayor Taylor will be on hand around 10:30 a.m. this Friday to launch the event.
Monarch Fest is free with zoo admission ($11.45 for seniors/kids and $14.25 for adults), but for an extra $1.50, visitors can also stroll through the Zoo's butterfly house, an experience well worth the cost.
There, visitors will have a unique opportunity to see Monarch and exotic butterflies up close and personal, take butterfly selfies and learn about the Monarch butterfly migration. All butterfly house proceeds – more than $200,000 annually – go 100% to conservation and education efforts, said Laurie Brown, Zoo volunteer services manager.
Brown spends $30,000 a year on commercially raised butterflies that are shipped overnight from all over the world in special cool gel packaging for release in the butterfly house, which operates March - November. Inside the 320-square-foot flighthouse, hundreds of exotic flyers like the Malabar Tree nymph, Idea malabarica, also known as the Paper Kite, will be on display in a natural, garden like setting. The wings of this gorgeous black-and-white butterfly, native to India and Southeast Asia, resemble rice paper with a Monarch-like painted glass pattern.
The Common banded Peacock, Papilio crino, sometimes called a Buddhist Heart, will also be flying this weekend, flaunting its fluorescent bluish-green wings, along with the amazing Atlas Moth, Atacus atlas, whose dramatic 12-inch wingspan makes it one of the 10 largest insects in the world. Brown promises dozens of different species populating the flighthouse--and of course, there will be Monarchs.
Brown said Zoo docents will also trot out other interesting insects like a Chilean rose tarantula, Madgascar giant cockroaches, Australian giant prickly sticks, Emperor scorpions and giant millipedes.
Even if you're not a huge fan of zoos, this chance to interact personally with beautiful butterflies and unusual insects is pretty irresistible.
The San Antonio Zoo has a long history of conservation, including a key role in saving the endangered Whooping Crane. The zoo’s Whooping Crane Recovery Program started in 1956 when only 16 whooping cranes remained on the planet. Thanks to captive breeding programs like the one initiated at the San Antonio Zoo, more than 600 birds make up the migrating population, which winters on the Texas coast.
"Over the last century, zoos have evolved from places of curiosity to a modern times Noah’s Arc as we see accelerating extinction rates more than 1,000 times the natural rate due to the irresponsibility of man’s management of our planet," said San Antonio Zoo CEO and executive director Tim Morrow. "We are dedicated to conservation, research and education, we just have to do a better job telling that story."
Top Image: The San Antonio Zoo will be celebrating a three-day Monarch Butterfly Fest starting Friday March 4th. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone