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Valley of the Butterflies

          

            The best place in the Untied States to see butterflies is the Rio Grande Valley.  More than 300 species of butterflies have been documented in the four county area, and approximately half of those don’t occur any farther north than deep South Texas.

           

            The blue metalmark is a perfect example of a tropical gem that doesn’t stray far from the Rio Grande.  It is a breathtaking sight, when the blue metalmark unfolds its wings revealing shimmering metallic blue sparkling in the sunlight.

           

            Two of the best places to see blue metalmarks are the butterfly gardens at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and Brownsville’s Resaca de la Palma State Park.

           

            Another strikingly beautiful specialty of the Rio Grande Valley is the red-bordered pixie.  These velvet black butterflies with gold tipped wings and richly hued red markings are usually found on and around their host tree the guamuchil.

           

            With a wingspan of less than two inches, the red-bordered pixie is a diminutive species, but it makes up for lack of size with spectacular markings.

           

            If you want to see a zebra longwing in Texas, then the Rio Grande Valley is the place.  With long graceful chocolate colored wings and bold yellow stripes the exotic butterfly is another South Texas exclusive that can be found fluttering thru Valley gardens. 

           

            The dazzling iridescence of the exotic Mexican bluewing shines brilliantly along forested paths at the National Butterfly Center near Mission where it is most at home in the semi-tropical woodlands of southernmost Texas.

           

            And you really don’t have to venture any farther than your own backyard to enjoy the beautiful butterflies of the Rio Grande Valley.

Alligator Gar Spawning

           

            It is thought to occur only a handful of times each decade, and it is happening right now in the remote backwaters of southernmost Texas, as the state’s largest freshwater fish is spawning.

           

            Recent rains have triggered an impressive gathering of alligator gar in a secluded wetland in the lower Rio Grande Valley.

           

             The water is so clear in this isolated realm that the lazily swimming gar appear to almost be in an aquarium like setting.

           

            They gather in large schools of a dozen or more with the massive torpedo shaped 5 to 6 foot females attracting numerous smaller suitors.

           

            Conditions must be precise for successful spawning to occur in late spring and early summer with overbank flooding triggering the event.

           

            Congregations gather and then disperse from deeper water; swimming into grassy shallows where females deposit their eggs over freshly inundated vegetation.  Males then release clouds of milt to fertilize the eggs as they are released.   

           

            Only a few days are required for the eggs to hatch and the young grow rapidly, exceeding five inches after only a month and up to 30 inches in a year.

           

            However, the rapid growth lasts only a few years, as a six to seven foot alligator gar may be some 50 years old.

           

            Periodically, gar rise to the surface and gulp air.   They have gills like other fish, but they also have a highly vascularized swim bladder lung that supplements gill respiration, which helps them survive in water where most fish would die of suffocation.

           

            This remarkable gathering lasts only a few days during peak flooding and presents an incredible opportunity to observe one of the most fascinating fish in Texas.

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