We had blue skies, moderate temperatures and humidity, and an atmospheric swarm of American Snout Butterflies.
This article in the San Antonio Reporter explains the the butterfly species and their peculiar “migrating” habits. Here’s another article from Texas Parks and Wildlife that provides a historical account of the phenomenon.
Here’s how we experienced the American snout storm on our trip:
American snout butterflies look like dead leaves when they are flying in the air. Their antenna and nose form the shape of a leaf stem protruding from their dark underwings.
We first noticed them while driving past the cotton fields west of San Antonio. Stray tufts of cotton escape the harvester and waft slowly on to the sides of the road, forming a fuzzy white board on both sides. I had the false impression that the flying insects were some kind of moth that evolved as a special gleaner of cotton fields.
But the dead leaves kept falling en masse long after we passed the farms.
The butterflies kept coming from nowhere, as if an invisible hand far above the ground was shaking out an invisible bag of small dry leaves continuously over the land.
They came at us in such numbers that it sounded like we were driving through rain—the kind of rain at the start of a storm when the drops are big and heavy and you can hear each individual drop for a few moments before the sky unleashes a downpour.
It soon became gruesome. As they neared our fast-moving windshield, the butterflies flashed their orange wings—suggesting a monarch-like beauty–before smashing into the glass and spilling their yellow gooey bug innards.
It was too much for the windshield wiper and fluid. We had to pull into a gas station to scrub them off with a squeegee.
It didn’t matter if we were speeding down the highway or leisurely taking the scenic Hill Country roads, we had to stop every hour to rid the bug bodies from our windshield.
Outside the car, on the hiking trail, the snout butterflies became magical.
Moving at human speed, we can see their orange wings flapping. Now they are the ones moving fast–so fast that it’s impossible to get a good picture of them in the air. It’s just one continuous flow of butterflies, passing over us, and around us.
There are so many butterflies in the air that they cast shadows over the trail. My eye keeps catching as if a large bird or cloud were passing above. The ground below is a shifting play of light and shadow, like nature’s disco-ball.
We hiked to the top of Old Baldy in Garner State Park. Spent from the challenging climb, I stand atop the rounded granite peak and take in the unimpeded view of the vast Texas hills. The butterflies are up here, too, a steady flow from somewhere below the mountain, blasting over the hilltop, fluttering past us and on to wherever they need to go.
It occurs to me that there is a bubble machine at the base of the mountain that shoots a continuous flow of butterflies.
Or maybe there’s a sorcerer in a mountain cave, in pointed purple hat and a robe with silver stars. He lifts his wand and chants a spell and poof!—the snout butterflies emerge in a playful cloud.
I think of Gabriel Garcia Marques’ book, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Yellow butterflies magically follow one of the characters. Yellow flowers fall from the sky at the death of another.
It is an enchanting thing to witness millions of butterflies, even those with unfortunate names and aspects like the American snout. It brings to mind that there is both magic and realism in every human experience of nature.