University Park’s Monarch Butterfly Wrangler

by Paula Bosse

monarch_life_colorCarl Anderson & friends (John Dominis, Time-Life Pictures/Getty Image)

by Paula Bosse

Carl Axel Anderson (1892-1983) was a mild-mannered internal revenue executive by day and a mild-mannered monarch butterfly expert by night (and weekend … and probably every waking second). Anderson had been interested in insects and butterflies from an early age, and he studied entomology at the University of Minnesota and Columbia. When he was away from the office, he was raising, tagging, tracking, and, perhaps, training monarch butterflies at his University Park home on Centenary Avenue, which writer Frank X. Tolbert dubbed “the Butterfly Ranch.” Even the neighborhood children — who called themselves The Centenary Monarchs — joined in and learned all about monarchs from Anderson, their butterfly mentor.

anderson_dmn_040350-photoDMN, April 3, 1950

Anderson’s primary interest was studying the migration patterns of the monarch butterfly, and, conveniently, Dallas was on their pathway, twice a year, so he had a front-row seat. Not only did he observe them passing overhead, he also raised them from eggs laid on the underside of his milkweed plants, enjoyed them as caterpillars, and when they became butterflies, he “branded” their wings painlessly (see below) and released them into the wild, hoping to be able to track their migration from fellow butterfly spotters around the country.

anderson_dmn_061949DMN, June 19, 1949

One year, big news was made when one of his butterflies was reported to have been seen in California by a 10-year old boy. That must have been one of the happiest moments of Anderson’s life.

anderson_dmn_012850-photoDMN, Jan. 28, 1950 (article below larger when clicked)



Every year during monarch migration over Texas, Mr. Anderson was a reliable go-to story for the local media. Particularly fascinated by Anderson and his “butterfly ranch” was The Dallas Morning News‘ Frank X Tolbert, who wrote about him numerous times. This very early profile by Tolbert rhapsodized about Anderson’s “pet” butterfly Pete and set the tone for all his very sweet articles about Anderson that appeared over subsequent years. (Beware of the last two paragraphs of the story below. Personally, I’d advise readers to stop reading when Pete sets off on his journey.)

anderson_dmn_051648DMN, May 16, 1948 (click to read)

Anderson was the subject of newspaper and magazine articles all over the country, but the high point was, undoubtedly, his appearance in the pages of Life magazine in 1954, accompanied by the striking photo of him with several of his butterfly pals resting on his face.


The caption for this photo reads: “Mottled with monarchs, butterfly breeder Carl Anderson stares serenely ahead as the domesticated insects swarm all over his face.” (That is NOT a “swarm,” Life!)

The two-page photo spread was titled “Monarch Man: Texan Breeds Bushels of Them To Help Map Butterfly Migration.”

“Each spring Mr. Anderson raises hundreds of monarchs in cages. If released, they flutter about him, looking for a sip of sugar water. When the monarchs mature, he brands them and turns them out, alerting friends across the U.S. to watch for them. One of Anderson’s butterflies turned up 1,200 miles away. But instead of clarifying the northward migration it added another enigma by flying cross-country and winding up almost directly west of Dallas.” (Life, May 24, 1954)




Anderson died at the age of 91, having spent the bulk of his long life engrossed in the study of his beloved monarch butterflies. This excerpt from a 1955 interview shows a glimpse of the wonder and enthusiasm that kept him fascinated by the butterflies his entire life:

anderson_dmn_050355DMN, May 3, 1955

anderson_dmn_102567-photoDMN, Oct. 25, 1967


Color photo of Carl Anderson by John Dominis (Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image). It is from the same session that produced the slightly different black and white image featured in Life magazine.

The profile of Anderson (which includes the text and photos reproduced above) appeared in the May 24, 1954 issue of Life; it can be accessed here.

Text and photos from The Dallas Morning News as noted.

A bunch of monarch butterfly sources:

  • “The Monarch Butterfly’s Annual Cycle” from the Monarch Butterfly Fund, is here.
  • “The Monarch Butterfly Journey North News,” a regularly updated blog on the current (overwintering/leading-up-to-Spring 2105) migration, is here.
  • A regularly updated map of monarch sightings (currently at Winter 2015, showing monarchs warming up in the bullpen along the Texas coast) is here.
  • An animated map of 2014’s Spring migration is here. UPDATE: An animated map of the Fall/Winter 2015 migration is here.
  • “Monarch Butterflies Could Gain Endangered Species Protection,” from the Scientific American blog, is here. (“Populations of the iconic and beloved monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus plexippus) have dropped an astonishing 96.5 percent over the past few decades, from an estimated 1 billion in the mid-1990s to just 35 million in early 2014.”)
  • Information on the monarch butterfly conservation program — and some beautiful photographs — can be found on the World Wildlife Fund site, here.

Lastly, a cartoon that accompanied a May 3, 1955 DMN article on Carl Anderson:


Keep your eyes peeled — they’ll be on their way soon!

Many images larger when clicked.


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.