A Moment of Science

Butterfly Farming

Hundreds of species of butterflies are threatened or endangered worldwide as a result of destruction or alteration of their habitats.

butterfly_house

Photo: Wugging Gavagai (flickr)

These butterfly houses are where visitors go to see tropical butterflies flying about in small-scale replicas of their natural habitats.

Vertebrates such as marine turtles, whales, pandas, and polar bears aren’t the only creatures endangered on this planet. Hundreds of species of butterflies are threatened or endangered worldwide as a result of destruction or alteration of their habitats.

Rain forests are the homes of thousands upon thousands of butterfly species, but with rain forest land being destroyed at the rate of an acre a heartbeat, it’s impossible to say just how many species have been lost already.

Butterflies’ survival depends on plants, both for nectar and as hosts for their caterpillars. Most species of butterfly will feed on only one species of plant. When these plants are destroyed, so are the butterflies that rely on them for survival.

This is where butterfly farming comes in. The market for butterflies to supply butterfly houses around the world is rapidly growing. These butterfly houses are where visitors go to see tropical butterflies flying about in small-scale replicas of their natural habitats. In places like Costa Rica and Papua New Guinea, indigenous populations are being taught how to farm the butterflies that are part of their environments. They provide butterflies with nectar plants and host plants, and then collect a majority of the resulting pupae for shipping to butterfly farms. Others are kept for future farming, and still others released back into the wild to replenish, and sometimes boost, the wild populations.

Butterfly farming is a growing conservation effort that benefits all involved: the butterflies, their habitats, and the farmers, who can make a more profitable living conserving butterfly habitats rather than destroying them. And the butterfly houses that the farms supply help raise public awareness about the butterflies and the biologically diverse ecosystems that support them.

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