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Butterfly Farming: Expanding Global Conservation Efforts While Bringing the Tropics to Colorado

Butterfly Farming: Expanding Global Conservation Efforts While Bringing the Tropics to Colorado

By Kathryn Hokamp, Lepidopterist at Butterfly Pavilion

Wings of the Tropics is an immersive experience where visitors to Butterfly Pavilion can surround themselves with around 1,600 free-flying butterflies that you can watch emerge before your very eyes in our chrysalis chamber. However, the lives of these butterflies actually begin about a month before they reach our facility, at butterfly farms throughout the tropics where caterpillars are raised until they make their pupae and are sent thousands of miles away to Colorado.

Butterfly Pavilion's butterflies come from eight different countries: Malaysia, the Philippines, Kenya, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Suriname, Ecuador, and the United States. These butterflies are raised on sustainable butterfly farms that work to conserve butterfly habitat as well as to raise butterflies for places like Butterfly Pavilion. Butterfly farming is an extremely sustainable industry because a female butterfly can lay between 200 and 400 eggs in her lifetime, and in the wild only about two of these eggs are expected to reach adulthood. Caterpillars encounter a host of difficulties in the wild from predators to diseases to parasitism. When a butterfly farmer raises these caterpillars in a protected environment, one batch of eggs can produce hundreds of adults rather than the two to three that would survive in the wild. The farmer can then send some of these butterflies to butterfly centers around the world like Butterfly Pavilion, keep some of these butterflies for breeding purposes, and re-release some of these butterflies into their natural environment to help supplement the local population. This is the model used by many of the farmers that work with Butterfly Pavilion. Butterfly farming also provides an economic incentive to protect vulnerable habitats. Butterflies need a robust habitat in order to thrive, so butterfly farmers are a huge part of protecting that habitat. Butterfly Pavilion works with butterfly suppliers in the tropics to support the conservation of threatened habitats for butterflies and other invertebrates. 

El Bosque Nuevo is a butterfly farm and conservation project run by Ernesto Rodriguez. In addition to supplying butterflies to Butterfly Pavilion, this Costa Rican butterfly farm sends butterflies around the world, including to butterfly centers in Europe and Asia. El Bosque Nuevo raises caterpillars in protected structures designed to keep out wasps and other predators, and so is able to produce a large amount of butterflies, some of which are sold to butterfly centers and others which are released back into the forest. The money earned from these butterfly sales goes back into purchasing large swathes of rainforest that are then protected. El Bosque Nuevo has also become a center for butterfly research, with researchers and students coming from around the world to work with their butterflies.

El Bosque Nuevo is not alone in its conservation efforts; Heliconius Works, Butterfly Pavilion's supplier in Ecuador, also works to conserve habitat. Jacob Olander of Heliconius Works maintains several conservation projects including working with indigenous communities in Ecuador to conserve the rainforest. In the Philippines, butterfly farmers coordinated in lobbying the government to ban neonicotinoid use on the island of Marinduque. Marinduque has a large concentration of butterfly farms and the excessive use of these pesticides was significantly affecting the number of butterflies in the area. Butterfly farmers on the island worked together to create educational resources and arrange meetings with government officials with an eventual result of the total banning of neonicotinoid-based pesticides on the island. This work by butterfly farmers allows butterflies in one of the most diverse areas in the world to continue to thrive.

By working with butterfly farmers around the world, Butterfly Pavilion is able to expand its international reach, and the butterfly farmers we work with are able to continue their conservation efforts at home. We are also able to bring a little bit of the tropics to Colorado, inspiring people to work to conserve these incredibly biodiverse areas of the world no matter where they live.

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