Festivals bring vitality and a sense of community to cities. What better way to bring people together than to provide a public celebration where everyone can enjoy themselves? Adding wings to this idea, now there are festivals that celebrate the people within a community and also the important native plants and animals that make such communities unique. Two great examples that highlight this month’s focus on butterflies are the Texas Butterfly Festival and the Florida ButterflyFest.

Each year as the warmth of summer dwindles, butterflies and moths that came north from the Southern US and Mexico to repopulate migrate to find gentler winter conditions. This migration can be witnessed, with luck, each fall as the butterflies and moths make their way South. Overwintering spots can include Southern California for the Lepidoptera species that live west of the Rocky Mountains, and Florida for those that live along the East Coast. Due to its shared border with Mexico, Texas sees a large population of butterflies, especially along the Rio Grande Valley as the creatures fly to wintering locations in Central Mexico. Some of the species that can be seen in Northern and Central America include: Cloudless Sulphur, Little Yellow, Gulf Fritillary, Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Common Buckeye, Long-tailed Skipper, Fiery Skipper, and Miami Blue, among many others.

Miami Blue

Miami Blue
Photo courtsey USFWS South Florida Ecological Services

Common Buckeye
Photo courtesy Dr. Thomas G. Barnes USFWS

The annual Texas Butterfly Festival is held in the city of Mission, an urbanized city with over 80,000 people, and the event connects locals and visitors to the unique Texas terrain. Volunteers lead festival-goers through Mission, and the surrounding area, to spot rare species, such as the Zebra Cross-streak; to tour butterfly gardens; and to visit portions of their migratory path along state parks and the Frontera Audubon Thicket, in nearby Weslaco city. Getting out and about in the city, festival attendees will explore the terrain and plant life along the Benson Palm Drive corridor, which locals have nicknamed the “butterfly beltway,” in hopes of spotting the butterfly beauties. There are also several privately maintained gardens throughout the city that are specifically landscaped to be butterfly paradises, acting as migratory havens and also attractors due to the supportive plant life, which open to the public during the festival. Each year the National Butterfly Center provides environmental education programs to locals as their way of “‘Growing Connections’ between people, plants, and the Winged Wonders that make our world so colorful.”

Another festival that aims to inspire local citizens each fall is the Florida ButterflyFest, held in Gainesville at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Gainesville is the largest city in North Central Florida, with a population near 125,000 people. True to the state’s subtropical climate, summers often boast daily thunderstorms that help to sustain Gainesville’s plethora of deciduous and evergreen trees, providing safe refuge for butterflies and moths as well as other native animals. The goal of the festival is to engage the community in celebrating backyard wildlife, particularly pollinators like butterflies. The ButterflyFest offers several environmental education programs, such as classes on growing plants that support butterflies and bees, and field identification. The programs are hosted with support from the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, at the Florida Natural History Museum, at which visitors can tour the 6,400-square-foot living Butterfly Rainforest, or peruse the 20,000-plus butterfly species collection the Center houses. The ultimate moment of delight at ButterflyFest is during the annual native Florida butterfly release. Dozens of native species are released outside of the Natural History Museum in the hopes they will help bolster the local butterfly population.

Each of these festivals helps citizens connect to the colorful beauty butterflies provide to our urban landscape. Such events are also great introductions for many people to get involved with citizen science projects that are tracking climate change effects, migration patterns, and population numbers to try and save these delicate creatures. One such project is MonarchWatch, with tracks the quintessentially recognized butterfly. For those who prefer to just observe, such festivals offer great educational connections so that citizens can obtain pollinator-specific plants, allowing anyone to tend a garden plot that will attract and shelter these “flying flowers.”

Posted by Amanda Beck