It’s fall-blooming plants that draw migrating Monarch butterflies to gardens across central Texas.
Mike Quinn with Texas Monarch Watch has seen some gather at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in South Austin.
“What we saw was perhaps a little below average, but it wasn’t as low as I was thinking it might be,” said Quinn.
Quinn tracks monarchs on their journey each year from the upper Midwest, through the Great Plains and Texas into Central Mexico.
“They’re riding the cold fronts as we’re having today,” said Quinn. “This is great monarch-moving weather, so to speak, and in between the cold fronts in the fall they’re searching for nectar.”
The nectar is the fuel needed on their yearly trip south.
They pack on weight to survive hibernation in Mexico each winter and a return trip north in the spring to reproduce.
“It’s like running a transcontinental marathon and then having a baby at the end,” said Quinn. “It’s a very unique migration pattern no other insect on the planet does.”
However, exceptional drought in central Texas means bountiful butterfly gardens are few and far between and could mean fewer monarchs.
Quinn warns we won’t know for sure until scientists get a more accurate measurement.
“Our annual benchmark is what the scientists in Mexico find when they measure the amount of forest that these colonies cluster up in late December,” said Quinn. “The long-term trend is slightly downward and this drought potentially exasperates that.”