A lot of people do not realize that Texas has a state insect: the Monarch
Butterfly (Danaus plexippus). In 1995, a resolution was passed by the Texas
State Legislature making the Monarch Butterfly the state insect. (The
Monarch Butterfly is also the state insect for Alabama, Idaho, Illinois,
West Virginia, and Minnesota!)
The Monarch Butterfly is easy to attract and easy to
raise for release. Many schools choose this species of butterfly in a
raise-and-release program. It gives young students a chance to observe the
complete life cycle of a butterfly.
My wife has successfully carried out this program with
her students at Moody Methodist Day School. They raise the caterpillars and
observe them as they undergo the change of stages to a butterfly. Then the
class has a special day to release the butterflies back to the wild. They
have also planted Butterfly Weed and Pentas to attract and feed their
Monarch butterflies after their release.
Most home gardeners can easily raise Monarch butterflies
right in their own backyard. I planted six Butterfly Weed plants in my
backyard last spring. In about 3 weeks, there were Monarch caterpillars all
over the plants. Do not be excited when they eat all the leaves on your
plants. This is a normal process. The leaves will grow back quickly.
The larva of the Monarch Butterfly is a distinctly marked
black and yellow banded caterpillar. You need to observe them daily, for
they grow quickly. During this stage, the caterpillar will shed its skin
several times. The caterpillar will grow to about 2 inches in length.
The next stage (pupae stage) is a beautiful thing to
observe. Look around your yard and you will see the Monarch Butterfly’s
chrysalis. I have found them everywhere, some even attached themselves to
the sides of our hot tub. You will recognize the Monarch chrysalis by it’s
bright, shiny green color and gold speckles.
In about 10 to 12 days, the adult Monarch will emerge as
a breathtaking black and orange butterfly. The male Monarch Butterfly may be
easily distinguished from the female by noting the two highly visible black
spots on the insect’s hind wings and the thinner black webbing within the
wings. The female’s webbing is thicker and she has no identifying wing spot
as the male does. Adult butterflies feed on nectar, and the Monarch
Butterfly will return to the same Butterfly weed to feed on its flower.
Now you can say that you have the State insect in your
own backyard. Butterfly gardening is an exciting, educational and fun
project for the whole family. Both young and old will be delighted at the
amazing changes taking place before their very eyes. You, too, can share in
the wonder of nature taking place right outside your back door.