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TPWD News Release — Dec. 20, 2004

Valley Reports New North American Butterfly Records

MISSION, Texas — Hearts of "butterfliers" — the term for enthusiasts of these winged beauties—are newly aflutter.

Four new genera of butterflies were recently recorded for the first time in North America here in the Lower Rio Grande Valley region of South Texas. Recent sightings at the World Birding Center Headquarters and the North American Butterfly Association International Butterfly Park near here have been seen by devoted followers visiting from as far away as Europe and Canada.

In an area of Texas more popularly known for its bird-watching opportunities, these winged creatures are stealing some of the limelight. One new species first seen Nov. 20 is called the common melwhite, a white sulfur-like butterfly with yellow underside and narrow black edging on the wingtips. Five other species seen here for the first time in recent weeks are the orange banner, cross-barred white, dusted spurwing, east-Mexican white-skipper, and thick-tipped greta.

"Birding has always been a major draw down here but butterflying is becoming more and more popular," said Nancy Millar, director of the McAllen Convention Visitor’s Bureau. Millar said wildlife watching brings in $100 million every year to the south Texas economy, and word travels fast among the most avid wildlife watchers.

"Digital photography has made it where people can take wonderful photographs," said Sue Sill, butterfly park executive director. "While visitors are not allowed to catch butterflies, many take pictures to quickly send to experts, and then call friends about the species. "We end up with a group of people from all over North America trying to find this one butterfly," said Sill. The melwhite first showed up in a Mission backyard, then a second, different melwhite arrived at the park the next day.

Since the facility’s groundbreaking a year ago, about 10,000 visitors have found their way to the Butterfly Park. Sill says the Lower Rio Grande Valley is a butterflier’s dream. In the three southernmost counties of Texas, more than 300 species of butterflies have been seen, which is 40 percent of all the recorded butterflies in the United States and Canada.

Sill pointed out that the Valley’s rich biodiversity is due to subtropical, temperate, coastal, and desert ecological regions that converge here. This habitat diversity fosters species diversity and makes the region an attractive habitat for butterflies. Being near Mexico is also important, since "the further south you go into the tropics, the more butterflies there are," she added.

Novice to advanced butterfly enthusiasts visit the park from all over the United States. The butterfliers are often also birders, gardeners or retirees with spare time to pursue the hobby.

Right now the NABA facility is 84 acres that is only partly developed, but they are working on purchasing more acreage and hope to eventually have 100 acres of world-class botanical garden and arboretum devoted to butterfly study and appreciation .

The new NABA butterfly park is just down the road from the World Birding Center Headquarters at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, which hosted its grand opening in October after seven years of planning and work.

Why the sudden interest in butterflying?

"Many people have gotten as many birds as they can, or close to it, on their birding life lists," Millar said. "So what they’re doing is turning to butterflies so they have new challenges and new things to see. But usually, it’s not either/or, it’s both. Birding and butterflying go hand-in-hand, and the common thread is the habitat that attracts both, which in turn attracts the travelers."


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