PBS’ ‘Nature’ to highlight Valley butterfly oasis, conservation


PBS’ Emmy award-winning series ‘Nature’ begins filming for their new episode on butterflies and moths later this month at the National Butterfly Center in Mission.

“The fact that they discovered us, and reached out, is tremendous,” said Marianna Trevino Wright, executive director of the 100-acre National Butterfly Center. “The Rio Grande Valley is the premiere place in the United States to see the greatest volume and variety of butterflies anywhere in the country.”

For more than a decade, the NBC has nurtured a habitat by planting host and nectar plants that attract butterflies and moths. Nearly 150 butterfly species are native to the Valley, and the NBC increases species diversity by planting specific vegetation aiming at about 150 more, she said.

“We have wildscapes and formal gardens full of the foods that butterflies need to reproduce and live out their life cycle,” she said. “In terms of planting, we’re still at the tip of the iceberg.”

Now in its season 35th, the television docuseries features animals and ecosystems. Filming is scheduled to begin at the end of October during the 21st Annual Texas Butterfly Festival, which also serves at the biennial members’ meeting of the North American Butterfly Association, parent organization of the NBC.

“While PBS reaches 82 percent of all households in the Unites States, residents of the Rio Grande Valley do not have to wait for this episode to air; they can come to the National Butterfly Center and experience the beauty and wonder of wild butterflies every day of the week,” Wright said.

While other some area state parks, wildlife refuges and municipal parks have more area, employees and funding, Wright called the NBC “the mouse that roared.”

“We’re making an enormous impact,” Wright said. “Our mission is to bring the importance of butterflies into focus, and we could not ask for a better platform than PBS’ ‘Nature’ to do this.”

The Rio Grande Valley has 11 distinct biosystems, providing “a greater concentration of biologically unique ecosystems than you find anywhere in the country,” Wright said, adding this contributes to a nearly half-billion-dollar Valley ecotourism industry.

“The film crew is coming from Morocco to Mission,” Wright said. “They can go anywhere in the world, and they’re coming to Mission, Texas.”

Wright said the “Nature” episode will emphasize the critical role of butterflies. Insects are a pivotal part of the ecosystem as both food and pollinators.

“Butterflies are important because in each of their life cycle stages, they provide food to much of the rest wildlife,” Wright said. “Caterpillars, for example, are the number one food source for migratory song birds.

“So if our butterflies can’t reproduce, or caterpillars disappear, our migratory songbirds will struggle to survive. Or, they’ll have to adapt to other food sources.”

While bees pollinate the majority of food crops, butterflies are responsible for pollinating the bulk of plant crops, including native plants, Wright said.

“If we don’t have butterflies to pollinate all of those plants, those plants will disappear,” she said. “If we have a world without the cover that native plants survive, global warming, drought, air quality and water quality will all be negatively impacted.”