Festivities aflutter: Monarch festival inspires jubilation, preservation

Victor Alexis and Leo Beccera with RGV DJ.com, walk with stilts during the Quinta Mazatlan third annual Monarch Festival on Saturday, March, 16, 2019 in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

McALLEN — Welcomed by a giant, yellow-and-black-striped caterpillar and a flurry of butterfly volunteers, many guests came here Saturday morning to Quinta Mazatlán with a pair of wings, too.

Celebrating the northward migration of monarchs, children with butterflies painted on their cheeks cavorted at the third annual Monarch Fest, fluttering around the paths and grassy areas of the garden estate. Glittering wings of all colors were in sight, but orange was the most popular.

Nine-year-old Ava Garcia, who had orange wings on her back and a butterfly in her hair bow, said that she adores butterflies but wishes there were more of them.

“I like seeing all the butterflies because they are all really so pretty,” Garcia, a fourth grade student at Raul Longoria Elementary in Pharr, said. “I like the color of them because they are orange, the reddish kind of orange, and I like that kind. My favorite color is purple, but I like orange too. … I like seeing the butterflies flying everywhere, but I want there to be more butterflies flying.”

In 2017, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling had the same thought.

“They don’t have food where they travel because habitat has been destroyed; they don’t have food where they live because habitat has been destroyed,” Darling said on stage before leading the Bug Parade. “We have to help save them.”

Along with 300 other mayors nationwide, Darling took initiative three years ago by signing the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge, promising to help restore butterfly habitat in their city. Under the pledge, mayors commit to implementing at least three of the 25 parts of the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge action items. McAllen is one of the four cities that has accomplished all actions, and was the second to be recognized by the federation as Monarch Champs.

Though the event was in observance of monarchs journey north, Quinta Mazatlán Director Colleen Hook said it was also about bringing awareness about the sharp decline of the monarch population.

Photo Gallery: Quinta Mazatlan 3rd Annual Monarch Festival

According to the National Wildlife Federation, about 90 percent of monarchs have been lost in the past two decades due to widespread habitat loss, increased use of pesticides and climate change.

“You have got to start with education and got to inspire people and have fun at a festival like today,” said Hook, whose blouse was covered with the orange and black butterfly. “But you have to transform acreage, and our friends in Mexico shared that that’s what they are doing as well. You need miles of milkweed, and the only way to start doing that is one backyard at a time.”

Hook emphasized “miles of milkweed” because milkweed is an important plant for monarchs because it is the only host plant for caterpillars; these plants are the only species of plants that sustains immature butterflies.

“It is all about everybody putting a corridor in their backyard,” Hook said. “We call it connecting pearls on a necklace; if I did it in my yard and you do it in yours, and the next does it in theirs, and we can connect all the way up north to Canada from Mexico. We can provide the perfect hotel/motel restaurant for monarchs who don’t have that anymore, and they are extremely picky.”

After four to five months of staying in the fir forests in Michoacan, Mexico, millions of monarchs start their 3,000-mile journey north to Canada starting in February, with the Rio Grande Valley part of the central flyway.

As a part of the pledge, Hook said that for change to happen, education comes first.

Zoologist Lucas Miller, also known as the Singing Zoologist, agreed with Hook, saying that teaching students about the importance of rescuing monarchs from endangerment is essential to recovery. Miller arrived here Friday evening from Austin for the event.

“I want them to understand that if we want this spectacular migration to continue happening, we have a role to play,” said Miller, who received his bachelor’s degree in zoology in Miami University. “So today, we are going to talk about how they need milkweed plants to play their eggs and plants for nectar. Hopefully they feel empowered to play a role in keeping them around.”

With his guitar, Miller and the kids on the carpet floor sang his original song, “Going Down to Mexico;” while behind them, a TV screen played a music video that showed the lyrics of his song. Teaching about the migration path of monarchs, the group sang:

“Wish me luck along the way
Because I’ve got so far to go
All the way to the mountains of Mexico
Winters aren’t so cold down there
I’ll be back when spring is in the air.”

Lining the courtyard were booths that featured homemade purses, jewelry and artwork by local crafters; while inside, attendees were able to learn more about plants that foster monarch-friendly environments, including milkweed. Visitors had the opportunity to buy plants for their own gardens at home.

Speaking to students on the stage with him, Darling said that he takes his pledge seriously and will do what he can to make McAllen an inviting stop for monarchs.

“The one thing I always thought about when I see butterflies fluttering around is that they look happy,” said Darling, who was wearing a white shirt with many monarch butterflies on the front. “Nothing is really bothering them, they flutter around happily. You know why they are happy? Because they are going home, and that’s an important thing. We are home here and we are always going to be happy for that.”