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The beautiful butterflies of Mission

 
The beautiful butterflies of Mission
HARRY & LINDA KAYE PEREZ It’s easy to see why this butterfly is known as the Zebra Heliconian.

Deep in the Rio Grande Valley is the National Butterfly Center, located in the city of Mission, Texas. It is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing a sanctuary for wild butterflies and has claimed the title of the Butterfly Capital of the Country.

The Lower Rio Grande Valley is one of the most biologically diverse areas in North America and provides the perfect climate for butterflies. With the Chihuahuan Desert to the west and the Gulf of Mexico to the east, an average temperature of 72 degrees, approximately 325 days of sunshine, and 22 inches of rain each year, it is no wonder this sanctuary is thriving here.

The National Butterfly Center is home to more than 300 species of butterflies. Not only does the center provide a perfect habitat for possibly God’s most colorful and graceful creatures, but it also encourages citizens of the surrounding area to help by planting gardens to provide food and water for the butterflies.

Freedom to fly

The Butterfly Center has no enclosed areas, no netting or obstructions of any kind to keep the butterflies within the center, so they depend on the community to help provide suitable habitat as well. This habitat can be as small as just a few nectar plants in the corner of a backyard or milkweed planted along roadways. The National Butterfly Center is leading the charge to educate the public about the importance of wild butterflies.

This 100-acre wildlife center and native species botanical garden contains trails for exploring, observation areas, educational exhibits, and a plant nursery. Its primary focus is to educate the public “as to the value of biodiversity, the beauty of the natural world, the wonder of butterflies in particular, the powerful role they play in maintaining healthy ecosystems, and sustainable food resources.”

The day we visited started out cloudy and a bit dreary, but this did not dampen our enthusiasm for the experience. As we walked with our guide along the trails, she stooped several times to pick up small orange-colored butterflies that we could not have seen among the fallen autumn leaves. She gently placed the motionless creatures on a low-lying tree branch and explained that they were not injured or dead, but simply waiting for the sunshine. And sure enough, as soon as the sun came out, the butterflies came to life, flitting between flowers -- hundreds and hundreds of them, much to our amazement and joy.

Spectacular species

We saw many species, each with its own visual appeal.

The Zebra Heliconian has a boldly striped black-and-white wing pattern and is found in South and Central America and as far north as the Rio Grande Valley.

The Laviana White Skipper is found from Argentina in South America, through Central America, and northern Mexico to South Texas. Its preferred habitat includes edges of brushy areas, trails, roadsides, open woodland, thorn forest, and along streams.

The Red Admiral is a well-known colorful butterfly, found in Europe, Asia, and North America. Most of North America must be re-colonized by those spending the winter in South Texas.

The Queen, one of the most recognizable butterflies, is found throughout the tropics and into the temperate regions of the Americas, Asia, and Africa. They like meadows, fields, marshes, deserts, and the edges of forests.

When to visit

According to Angie at the National Butterfly Center, the butterflies are there all the time, but viewing is best when there is warmth and sunlight. Migration occurs in March and November each year and during these times, their numbers increase.

The National Butterfly Center is located at 333 Butterfly Park Drive
 in Mission. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 5-12, and $5 for local area residents and “Winter Texans.”

For information, call 956-583-5400 or visit www.nationalbutterflycenter.org.

Harry and Linda Kaye Perez are freelance writers from just down the road from Floresville. Together they share a passion for traveling and writing, and discovering the very best in all corners of the world. Email them at Harry-Linda411@att.net.

Save the date

Saturday, Oct. 31, through Tuesday, Nov 3: Enjoy the 20th annual Butterfly Festival in Mission

Fast facts

•There are between 15,000 and 20,000 different species of butterflies worldwide.

•Butterflies in their adult stage can live up to a year, depending on the species.

•A butterfly’s sense of taste is 200 times stronger than a human’s.

•The Monarch butterfly migrates from southern Canada to Mexico and the South Texas region, where they spend the winter and breed.

 
 
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