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Monarch butterflies flutter through Crossroads

By by Dianna Wray - DWRAY@VICAD.COM
Oct. 26, 2011 at 5:26 a.m.

Monarch butterflies cover a mesquite tree as they pass through the Bayside area on their migration to Mexico.

Sally Crowfutt and her husband, Larry Green, were out walking in Bayside last week when they saw them - monarch butterflies, dozens of them, hanging from a mesquite tree.

"When you look at them, the tree almost shimmers because of the fluttering. The tree looked almost alive," Crowfutt said.

Green pulled out his camera and snapped some pictures of the butterflies, capturing images of clusters of monarchs, their wings vivid orange and gold in the light.

Crowfutt and Green began learning about monarch butterflies about six years ago when Crowfutt began hosting a Monarch Butterfly Tagging Program at Fennessey Ranch, where she works as a manager.

Working with the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, they run an annual program where students come out and help tag monarch butterflies, releasing them to continue their journeys toward Mexico.

The program was meant to interest students in butterflies and the environment, but it also caught the couple's interest.

"We learned all about them, and then we were fascinated with these butterflies," Crowfutt said.

There were fewer Monarchs this year, because of the drought, but last Friday students tagged 25 of them as the insects stopped over at the ranch, Crowfutt said.

Monarch butterflies are migratory insects. It takes four to five generations for them to make their way between the mountains of Mexico, where they spend the winters, and the cooler climates in the north where they make it through the summers, Master Naturalist Paul Meredith said.

"We're seeing fewer than the year before, and the year before that, but they're here," Meredith said. The recent rain in the area has allowed the milkweed they eat to grow in, so the butterflies have been stopping to breed here, he said.

They are in the Crossroads, but Meredith said those who want to see an impressive array of the colorful creatures should head down to the coast. Some will decide to stay here, but other monarchs will be getting ready to cross the Gulf of Mexico and head toward Mexico, he said.

"The big question is, how do they know where to go, given that there's five generations of butterflies that have never seen Mexico? We don't know, they just do," he said.

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