Texans will soon be seeing their first glimpse of the monarch butterflies’ signature orange-and-black wings.
Thousands of butterflies pass through Texas every year as they migrate north from Mexico to lay eggs and consume milkweed, a plentiful plant in Central Texas that monarchs rely on for food. And this year, they’re expected to have one of the largest migrations through Central Texas in recent history.
Craig Wilson, director of the USDA Future Scientists Program, said on Texas A&M's website that the number of butterflies has increased by 144 percent in the past year after several years of decline. By estimating around 50 million monarchs per hectare, Wilson estimates there may be a total population of around 300 million butterflies.
“Monarch numbers are usually measured in hectares, so that means about 15 acres are being used for their breeding grounds in northern Mexico,” Wilson said. “That’s a really positive sign, especially since their numbers have been down in recent years."
Chip Taylor, director of Monarch Watch at Kansas University, told KUT that he expects a final big wave of monarchs to enter Texas from Mexico by the end of the week.
"This is an unusual spring," Taylor said to KUT. "You’re seeing an unusual number of monarchs in Texas for this time of year."
While the butterflies are experiencing population growth, Taylor told KUT that the migration could still be in jeopardy due to climate change, an earlier migration season and loss of milkweed.
"We have to face the facts that climate is changing," Taylor said. "This whole migration is in jeopardy given the loss of milkweed and the fact that climate is changing in an unfavorable way to sustain this population."
Wilson said Texas residents should plant milkweed and other nectar flowers if they want to help the monarchs reproduce.
READ: Help monarchs by planting milkweed — but make sure it’s native