Things To Do: Monarch Events and Local Places to See Pollinators / Places to see Pretty Pollinators in Action

WORDS
Alex Mitchell Mortenson
PUBLISHED
October 2016 in
DallasChild, NorthTexasChild
UPDATED
September 26, 2016
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It’s hard for kids not to love butterflies — they’re gentle, they fly and, with their beautiful colors and eye-catching patterns, they’re just plain nice to look at. Lucky for us, North Texas is a crucial stop in the monarch butterfly’s migration pattern as they journey south from Canada to Mexico during autumn each year. While the exact timing varies year to year based on weather patterns, we can generally anticipate the monarch’s arrival in the first few weeks of October. Take advantage of our temporary winged visitors with a slew of local events celebrating their arrival. Then stick around to show some appreciation for a host of North Texas’ other less celebrated — but equally important — pollinators, like the birds and the bees.

Plano Environmental Education Center
Nothing beats getting some fresh air and using the great outdoors as the ultimate classroom. In the Nature Explore Garden, kids of all ages learn about animal habitats, ecological cycles and environmental sustainability through play. Youngsters explore the butterfly life cycle with a chrysalis large enough for them to hide inside, plant seeds in the children’s garden, and keep an eye out for winged pollinators like birds in the no-walls classroom. Admission is free.
Plano, 972/941-7000

River Bend Nature Center
Make a day of it and head to the state’s premier butterfly exhibit in Wichita Falls, roughly a two-hour drive northwest of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Marvel at the rolling plains ecosystem simulated inside the nature center’s Ruby N. Priddy Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, a 7,000-square-foot glass structure stocked with prairie shrubbery and animals like box turtles, prairie dogs and, of course, butterflies. Then set small hearts aflutter in Peyton’s Place, the property’s butterfly house filled with brightly colored wildflowers and butterflies such as the zebra longwing. Kiddos can check out special explorer packs in advance from the front desk so they can inspect nature up close with the help of binoculars, a magnifying glass and a scavenger hunt sheet. General admission is $5; babies under 12 months are free.
Wichita Falls, 940/767-0843

Texas Discovery Gardens
Add a refreshingly unfried stop to your family’s annual State Fair trip with a visit to the Texas Discovery Gardens at Fair Park. While the Gardens are open year-round, the staff puts on a daily monarch tagging event on the front lawn while the fair is open, from Sept. 30–Oct. 23. Any kid old enough to be gentle can participate in tagging temporarily captured monarchs with stickers and releasing them to continue their migration. (The stickers unobtrusively help scientists collect data on monarch migration patterns and population.) Tagging event is free, but State Fair admission and parking fees apply. 

If you want to do a deeper dive into the world of pollinators, visit the Rosine Smith Sammons Butterfly House & Insectarium. Texas Discovery Gardens imports 500–1,000 butterflies a week (from family-run farms in countries like Kenya, the Philippines and Malaysia) and ensures that they feel right at home by maintaining the tropical creatures’ balmy natural rainforest habitat. Don’t forget to check out the new honeybee exhibit, which allows mini explorers to watch the worker bees inside the hive behind a special see-through plexiglass cover. Highly knowledgeable entomologists offer tours of the butterfly house on the first Saturday of the month at 11am. The tour is open to all ages and lasts 20–30 minutes, giving guests just enough time to do their own walk-through after the tour before the daily butterfly release at noon.

Compare and contrast the tropical butterflies with their native Texas counterparts in the outdoor pollinator gardens. The specially planted gardens, which recently quadrupled in size, act as a natural magnet for butterflies like the queen butterfly and other pollinators like honeybees. The colorful gardens are filled with host plants for pollinators to lay their eggs, like milkweed and pipe vines, and nectar plants for pollinators to eat from, like the pretty blue Gregg’s mistflower.

Admission to Texas Discovery Gardens is half-off during the State Fair: $4 for adults, $2 for ages 3–11 and free for tots under 3.
Dallas, 214/428-7476

Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
Master Naturalist and volunteer Melanie Schubert hosts an hourlong lecture called “Butterfly Talk: Amazing Monarchs” on Oct. 1 at 10am. Appropriate for curious kiddos ages 10 and older, the PowerPoint presentation covers everything one might ever want to know about monarchs, from migration patterns to metamorphosis. After the lecture, be sure to check out the property’s Butterfly House and Garden. While it’s too late in the year for the butterfly house to be stocked, the expansive garden (planted with both host and nectar plants) will still be full of native butterflies like gulf fritillaries and pearl crescents. Then roam the Heard’s 289 acres of nature preserve seeking pollinators like bees, moths, butterflies and wasps in their naturally occurring habitat. You can learn more about the butterflies you’ll find and even download a special pollinators coloring sheet for kids on the Heard’s website. Lecture is free with admission: $11 for adults, $8 for kids 3–12 and free for tots ages 2 and younger.
McKinney, 972/562-5566

Wildseed Farms
While you might not think of fall as the best time to see the famed Hill Country wildflowers, there’s still plenty to feast your eyes on in October, including wildflowers and the butterflies that rely on them for nectar. So make the four-hour trek to Fredericksburg for an overnight getaway and the annual Monarch Celebration on Oct. 8. Gentle kids of all ages help tag monarchs for tracking and learn about the monarch’s multigenerational migration patterns in the specially planted butterfly garden. Monarchs will be released to continue their journey to Mexico at 11:30am and 2pm. Leave plenty of time for wandering the 217-acre working wildflower farm, complete with walking trails winding through seemingly endless rows of flowers and plenty of shaded benches to stop and ogle at the bright yellows and oranges of the blooming sunflowers and yellow cosmos. Admission is free.
Fredericksburg, 830/990-1393

Fort Worth Botanic Garden
Butterfly lovers ages 4 and up can’t miss Discovery Days: Monarch Tagging at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden on Oct. 4 at 11am. Wearing gardening gloves brought from home, littles carefully place a 9-millimeter round plastic tag on the underside of the monarch’s hindwing. Each tag has a special number that lets scientists know exactly where the butterfly travels, information that’s used to calculate overall migration patterns and monarch population numbers. After the hourlong event, head to the 7.5-acre Japanese Garden, a perennial favorite planted with magnolias, Japanese maples and lots of bamboo. Take a family walk along the tiny winding pathways, admire the intricate bridges and see if the koi who live in the ponds have any winged visitors. Botanic Garden and event admission are both free; Japanese Garden admission is $7 for adults and $4 ages 4–12.
Fort Worth, 817/392-5510

Grapevine Botanical Gardens
The whole family (even your pup) is welcome to the Grapevine Botanical Gardens’ 19th annual Butterfly Flutterby on Oct. 15 from 10am–2pm. Those who want to experience the full-on celebration can meet at Liberty Park on the corner of East Wall and Jenkins streets at 10am and walk the half-mile parade route to the Botanical Gardens fully adorned in their fanciest butterfly gear. (Prizes for best costume will be awarded in each age group.) After the parade, tag monarchs at the Migration Station — the butterflies will be released in the Botanical Gardens at 10:45am, 11:45am and 12:30pm — and stick around for glittery face painting, butterfly crafts and a scavenger hunt. Celebration and gardens admission is free.
Grapevine

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