Northeast Tarrant

March of the monarchs: Grapevine celebrates with annual Butterfly Flutterby

Hannah Nezafati of Lantana gets a tagged monarch butterfly to release at the 19th Annual Butterly Flutterby festival in Grapevine.
Hannah Nezafati of Lantana gets a tagged monarch butterfly to release at the 19th Annual Butterly Flutterby festival in Grapevine. Special to the S-T

For nearly two decades, Grapevine’s Butterfly Flutterby and its release of hundreds of butterflies has celebrated the annual march of the monarchs in the fall as they migrate from the northern United States and Canada south to Mexico.

The city’s 19th annual event on Saturday honored the monarch with a festival that featured a kids and pets butterfly costume parade and four releases of butterflies.

Gail and Stacy Holt of Grapevine brought their family dog Willi and 5-year-old granddaughter, Riley Fetter, who has been attending the festival since she was one year old.

“She was up at 6 a.m. ready to go,” Gail said. “We love doing this with her.”

Riley was especially excited this year when her costume in the 3 to 5-year-old category took first place. She wore a green dress, striped stockings and a homemade garden of artificial sunflowers that were attached to her back and stood proudly above her head. One of the newly released butterflies made a temporary stop on top of one sunflower before taking to the sky.

“I love butterflies,” the kindergartener said as Gail explained to her how the insects “go south” after the release.

Flutterby has always been hailed as an important teaching moment to showcase the butterfly and efforts to keep it safe, according to self-professed “butterfly wrangler” Jenny Singleton, who has been with the festival since it began.

On Thursday, Singleton and a half dozen other volunteers gathered at the Grapevine Convention and Visitors Bureau to “tag” the insects.

Singleton helped “tag” 650 butterflies bought at a Florida butterfly farm that were released Saturday at three events at Grapevine Botanical Gardens at Heritage Park and one event down the street at the 16th Annual Fall Round-Up at Grapevine’s historic Nash Farm.

For years, Singleton has been involved with an ongoing tagging program sponsored by Monarch Watch and its affiliation with the University of Kansas. Monarchs tagged in Texas have been tracked by this unique numbering system to their overwintering grounds in central Mexico, helping scientists study their population.

Singleton said a popular destination is the Mexican state of Michocan, which incorporates the butterflies into their Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations Nov. 1-2 with families remembering the dead with graveside picnics, all-night vigils and prayer gatherings.

“The butterflies often arrive on Nov. 1 and they believe the butterflies are the returning souls of their ancestors,” Singleton said.

Monarch Watch offers people who find the butterflies marked with coded all-weather tags a finders fee of $5 apiece.

“The five dollars is a source of income but also teaches the people to respect the butterflies,” Singleton said.

The butterfly wrangler said she has tagged approximately 14,500 monarchs since linking with Monarch Watch 23 years ago — 105 of which were found in Mexico.

Saturday’s annual event provided the opportunity to learn about the butterfly and its migratory patterns, as well as beneficial plants the monarchs depend on — most importantly milkweed. It also introduced children to nature and the life cycle of monarch butterflies.

Next door was the Grapevine Garden Club’s annual native plant sale that offered nectar and host plants for butterflies and featured native and adapted trees and shrubs. Experienced gardeners assisted festival-goers in selecting landscape plants.

Singleton, a member of the garden club and longtime Grapevine resident, regularly speaks on “these majestic insects and their incredible life cycle and how your landscape can help the monarchs succeed in their journey.”

A retired preschool educator and community volunteer, Singleton enjoys introducing children “to nature and the fascinating life cycle of monarch butterflies.”