Butterfly Ambassadors for Our Pollinator Community

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There is value in being a highly recognizable face for a movement or a larger community – an ambassador for a cause. It is a frequently used tactic for charity and nonprofit organizations asking for action, such as using a celebrity in advertisements to reach more people.

This idea extends to wildlife conservation, where charismatic or iconic species are used as ambassadors to bring people together in conservation efforts – giraffes in Africa and pandas in China, for example.

Here in North America, one of our most recognizable wildlife ambassadors is the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). They have key traits that help get them such wide-spread awareness. They are brightly-colored and large butterflies, have a range that extends from Canada through the United States and into Mexico, and despite recent population declines, they are common enough to be regularly encountered by millions of people.

There are many efforts underway to help conserve the monarch butterfly — on an international scale, down to neighborhoods and individual homes. The City of McAllen has been a supporter since 2016 through the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge from the National Wildlife Federation.

Recently, Mayor Javier Villalobos was recognized for his leadership in creating habitats for monarchs through restoration projects, native plant giveaways and raising awareness with art murals and community events. While these sorts of efforts have and can continue to make a difference for monarch populations, the effects of those actions extend beyond our favorite milkweed-lovers.

One of the reasons wildlife organizations choose ambassador species is due to the umbrella species concept, where actions taken to support one species can also provide benefits for other species – like an umbrella held by one person protecting another from the rain.

Because monarchs migrate long distances across North America, the actions taken to support them – creating wildflower meadows, planting nectar plants in parks, growing milkweeds – also benefit many other pollinator species in those areas. For example, one of the Monarch butterfly’s favorite nectar plants in our area is the southern seaside goldenrod (Solidago Mexicana), which is a favorite of many pollinating bees, beetles, flies, and wasps.

The same applies to many other plants adult monarchs use for nectar, including crucita (Chromolaena odorata), betonyleaf mistflower (Conoclinium betonicifolium), and Mexican trixis (Trixis inula).

And the same goes for the milkweeds eaten by monarch caterpillars. Other insects that benefit from milkweeds include tussock moths (Genus euchaetes), which also host on milkweeds, as well as various species of milkweed longhorn beetles (Genus tetraopes). Milkweed flowers are also resources for pollinating insects, including bees and wasps.

When McAllen plants new native milkweeds and nectar plants, more than just monarch butterflies are being supported. Entire communities of life can benefit, including us.

Learn more about monarch butterflies and other pollinators at the McAllen Monarch Festival, which will be held on April 1 at Quinta Mazatlan. Join the celebration full of fun activities for all ages. Follow Quinta Mazatlan on social media for more information.

John Brush
Quinta Mazatlán