Butterflies in Texas: How You Can Help them Thrive

Add another entry to the list of things Texans should be proud of: Butterflies.

More species of the insect are found here than in any other state, about 400.

But rapid land development is destroying butterfly habitat, and experts say if that doesn’t change, some Texas species will be lost forever.

A caterpillar sheds its skin. After two weeks in its new chrysalis, a butterfly emerges.

The Rio Grande Valley in South Texas is a butterfly-watcher’s dream, with 150 species found nowhere else in the United States.

While butterflies are essential for pollination and as food for birds, their habitat here is under extreme pressure.

“There’s less than five percent of the native habitat remaining in the Rio Grande Valley that was here just 50 years ago… less than five percent,” said David Dauphin, a volunteer at the National Butterfly Center.

Butterflies can only thrive in a thriving environment. But more and more land development in Texas and across the border in Mexico is plowing under the fields where butterflies like to live and breed.

“It’s a very good possibility a large number of the species will disappear — maybe within our lifetimes,” warned John Watts, the butterfly expert at Texas Discovery Gardens at Fair Park in Dallas.

The idea here is that people who see them in the garden here will also value butterflies out in the wild. And, hopefully, will also understand each species can only survive on a specific kind of plant.

“Without the habitat, there’s no place for them,” Watts said.

Watts helps protect butterfly habitat by purchasing the insects, at up to $9 each, from critical habitats around the world like Suriname and Ecuador.

He also gets shipments from Steve O’Neil, a butterfly farmer in the Rio Grande Valley.

In the wild, a butterfly lays about 600 eggs; as few as two or three survive.

“It’s a tough world out there,” O’Neil said.

In captivity, the odds of survival are much better. “On a farm, a butterfly farm, you can probably get 80 percent of the eggs through to a butterfly,” O’Neil added.

Butterfly experts say its pretty easy for the rest of us to do our part and help protect Texas butterflies. Simply grow native plants that butterflies flock to, and they will come.

It’s a show not to be missed.


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