MISSION — The National Butterfly Center was swarming with visitors for the 22nd Annual Texas Butterfly Festival.
The festivities began with an early morning run and continued Saturday with Community Day featuring special activities for visitors hoping to see butterflies dancing around the vegetation of their natural habitat.
McAllen resident and volunteer Normalynda Zepeda said she goes to the center on weekends to see nature at its best.
“I can be here a couple of hours and not see everything and schedule nothing on my calendar and try to come out here,” Zepeda said. “I’ve gotten to know the different butterflies. They also have lizards, birds and (you can) get to know the native plants, so there is lots to learn.”
Marianna Treviño Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center, said the center is environmental, educational and a conservation agency.
“We are the pilot project of a very large organization, the North American Butterfly Association, which works across the whole country to educate people the importance of wild, free-flying butterflies and what they need,” Treviño Wright said. “If we don’t have native plants that are host and nectar sources for the butterflies, we won’t have any butterflies and butterfly species are ultimately tied to various plant species.”
“We have to teach people that all of these weeds (native plants) have a purpose, so that’s a big part of the purpose of the festival,” Treviño Wright added. “The other part is to help people understand this incredible place that South Texas is. People don’t know that the Rio Grande Valley is unique in the volume and variety of butterflies that we have more than anywhere in North America.”
The celebratory event continues through Tuesday with expert guided field trips to Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, private properties, hotspots and hard-to-find locations.
“We do the festival at peak of butterfly season. Because of fall, the weather is usually very nice and it’s fairly predictable that we will have all these butterflies reproducing, it’s like best of show for the Rio Grande Valley,” the center’s executive director said.
Naturalists from across the nation and globe have made their way to the butterfly center to get a glimpse of some of the rare species that can’t be found without traveling south of the border.
Canadian Karen Yukich and her husband have been attending the festival and visiting the butterfly center for several years.
“This butterfly center is the main reason we come down to South Texas,” Yukich said. “We spend most of our time right here. We are very interested in the butterflies. My husband is very serious — seriously into butterflies, so that was his big dream to come here.
“It’s wonderful to see this area has made nature tourism a priority,” Yukich added. “It’s just so appealing that you can spend quite a bit a time and repeatedly go to different places and just to see the municipalities and state parks and all that recognize the importance and encouraging this type of tourism.”
The butterfly center, located south of Mission near the river, offers visitors the ability to experience the outdoors without the use of technology.
“We want you to be present in the wild, outdoors and to have a relationship with this place and this creature and notice it how it moves and what it does,” Treviño Wright said. “We need people to unplug and get outdoors that I know that South Texas is so unbearably hot, but if you come out early in the day or late in the evening it’s not bad.”
For more information on the National Butterfly Center or Texas Butterfly Festival, contact (956) 583-5400 or visit www.nationalbutterflycenter.org