The Rio Grande Valley is home to incredible beauty. And much of it can be found at the National Butterfly Center — a 100-acre wildlife center in Mission that sees more butterflies than anywhere else in North America.
National Butterfly Center Executive Director Marianna Treviño Wright explained this is due to the RGV’s 11 distinct ecosystems that support unique butterfly species with their flora. The center receives approximately 35,000 unique visitors annually — both Valley natives and tourists from far and wide.
“They come to experience the gardens, butterflies, and birds,” she said. “Some of them come just to walk or do nature photography because they enjoy that or find it relaxing.”
While the center is a big attraction for those with a passion for butterfly watching from around the world, Treviño Wright said they continue pushing to draw locals, many of whom report being first-time visitors to the 20-year-old reserve.
For anyone looking to get more in touch with nature, she suggests starting by just getting outside and paying attention.
“Sit somewhere and observe what is flying, what is in your own yard, what is in the park,” she said. “I think most people will be surprised when they stop and take notice of the bees, flies, butterflies, birds, and even the variety of lizards and spiders and things that they might get to see in a very small patch of flowering plants.”
She also encourages people to plant native plants to help support butterfly life. The center features a native plant nursery and offers educational programming for youth and adults.
“It’s critical to teach people about the plants and animals that we need to protect,” she said. “Here we have a safe, beautiful space for them to not only learn, but experience firsthand many of those plants and animals.”
Among the other programs they offer include “M3: Monarchs, Milkweed & Me”, which educates the community on how to become advocates for the monarch species, and “Camping 101,” teaching camp and outdoor safety practices.
The National Butterfly Center staff, which includes plant specialists, award-winning wildlife photographers, and other wildlife specialists, operates the programs following Project Wild — the nation’s oldest environmental education curriculum.
In addition to making a difference through visiting the National Butterfly Center and supporting wild butterfly conservation, individuals benefit themselves.
According to the American Psychological Association, exposure to nature helps improve attention, lower stress, and boost mood.
“Instead of medication, you can turn to natural remedies, like sitting still among trees,” Treviño Wright said. “Then there are additional benefits of movement, whether you’re taking a casual stroll with your binoculars or are going for a more vigorous hike.
“If you’re walking the trails in the whole property, it’s as many miles as you would like to make it.”
Peak butterfly season occurs in fall, coinciding with the National Butterfly Center’s annual Texas Butterfly Center. This year’s festival takes place Oct. 29 through Nov. 1. Registration is open at texasbutterflyfestival.com and the festival kicks off with a free community day.
Treviño Wright said this is a great time for people to plan their first visit to the center, as temperatures are cooler and they’re also sure to see many species of birds amid this migration season.
The National Butterfly Center has another major celebration this year. In December, Spike — the center’s giant African spurred tortoise — turns 18.
When preparing for a visit, she encourages people to check out their social media to be notified of any updates and to dress appropriately.
“There are a variety of things you need to protect your body from when you come out so that you can have a pleasant experience,” she said. “We suggest wearing long pants, a hat and perhaps a scarf to protect you from the sun. Don’t forget to bring a water bottle and sunscreen.
“We also encourage people to message, email, or call and ask what species are being seen.
“Our goal is for everyone who comes through our doors is that they not only understand the fauna, but that they appreciate them and fall in love — whether it’s with the butterflies or birds or lizards.”
For more information, visit nationalbutterflycenter.org.