San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas
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January 26th, 2009
Televisory: Following the flight of the Monarch

Televisory: A Column
By HAP MANSFIELD
Scene Editor

Anyone who drives to Austin or San Antonio during rush hour has seen some mighty impressive traffic, but it’s nothing compared with the traffic going right over your head in the month of October.

That’s the month when San Marcos and Hays County are directly on the main thoroughfare that Monarch Butterflies take in their remarkable migration from as far north as Canada to the state of Michacocan in Mexico.

These delicate winged travelers fly by the millions to a place they’ve never even been before. The process has fascinated biologists, lepidopterists, ecologists and observers from all walks of life. How do the Monarchs know where to go? How can they weather a journey that can be as long as 2,000 miles? How can a beautiful butterfly be tougher than a left tackle?

These are just some of the questions scientists try to answer on Nova’s  “The Incredible Journey of the Butterflies” this week on KLRU. The program will air Tuesday at 7 p.m., then several times later.

One part of the program follows a group of Monarchs from California to Mexico, following along with cameras on helicopters and hot-air balloons for a butterfly point of view.  Another part awaits their arrival in back country Texas with renowned Monarch watcher, Bill Calvert. The result of an experiment in which some Monarchs were taken from Kansas, mid-trip, to another locale is astonishing.

Since Monarchs do not breed in the winter, the generation that makes the trip to Mexico is the same one that begins the return migration back to all parts of North America. But they are not strong enough to make the return trip. They mate and die in Texas and Oklahoma and their children make it north, where they mate and die. Then, the grandchildren are the ones that make the next trip to Mexico.

There are thousands of Monarch watchers, feeders and butterfly gardeners around Hays County who have seen this migration first-hand and have experienced the literal carpets of thousands of butterflies resting on the ground or spending the night festooning the trees. “The Incredible Journey” tries to explain more about this miraculous animal.

This NOVA episode will be rebroadcast on KLRU Jan. 27 to Feb. 1. Check the local listings for details. If you stay tuned on Tuesday, though, you can see the Austin Lyric Opera’s fun and colorful take on Rossini’s  “La Cenerentola” i.e. “Cinderella.” It’s an eye-popper.

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