World-Traveling Butterflies

Where do the tropical butterflies that fill the Butterfly House Conservatory come from and how do they make it all the way to Missouri?

To answer that question, we must first travel to Costa Rica.

El Bosque Nuevo

Beginning in 1995 in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, El Bosque Nuevo aimed to help preserve the rainforest and the species it harbors by finding a way to balance humanity and the nature that surrounds them.  It began with 36 hectares of property being reforested, leaving 50 hectares to be used for protection and conservation efforts.

The organization has grown since then from an initial spread of 86 hectares to 285 hectares.  Half of that land is reforested, while the other half is used for the protection and conservation of native species.

The Butterfly House began working with El Bosque Nuevo in 2007.

Two owl butterflies perch on a single branch. (Photo by Kat Niehaus)

Currently, El Bosque Nuevo exports 87 butterfly varieties as pupae to butterfly gardens and conservatories across the globe.

Money received from butterfly buyers goes into supporting their rainforest preserve and the buying and re-planting of previously farmed rainforests.

El Bosque Nuevo sells thousands of butterflies each week, with 80 percent of the butterflies coming from local families in impoverished areas who have been taught how to sustainably farm butterflies.  The income they receive per week from farming butterflies is more than they used to make in an entire year.

“I think it’s really cool that the purchase of a ticket can be used to the fund the purchase of butterflies, which helps rainforest conservation in Costa Rica, which also helps impoverished families living in the area,” explains Tad Yankoski, an entomologist at the Butterfly House.

Chrysalis Processing

Butterflies are transported as chrysalises largely due to their durability.  Every supplier packs their chrysalises in boxes slightly differently.  For example, El Bosque Nuevo uses specialized foam cells.

LPS LLC packages their chrysalises in layers of cotton padding. (Photo by Morgan Niezing)

The Butterfly House receives approximately 44,000 chrysalises each year, broken down into 4,000 each month at about 1,000 each week in two smaller shipments.

Once the chrysalises are received, the processing begins.  This delicate process can take three to four hours to complete, as every single chrysalis must be checked for disease, damage, and parasites.

“Essentially, you look for anything that looks different, such as discoloration,” says Yankoski, “It can take some practice because some species have a lot of color variation in their chrysalises.”

Once all of the chrysalises have been accounted for and examined, the hanging begins.

In this particular shipment from LPS LLC, 400 chrysalises were accounted for, with 34 different butterfly species represented.

This particular shipment from LPS LLC came in at 400 butterflies representing 34 different species. (Photo by Morgan Niezing)

“When forming a chrysalis, caterpillars produce a string of silk that connects them to the branch and we pin the chrysalises to styrofoam boards through that silk,” says Yanksoski. “If that silk isn’t present for any reason, then we hot glue a piece of paper to the chrysalis and pin that paper to the styrofoam.”

The pinned chrysalises are color-coded by country of origin and are then transferred to the emergence cases.  The cases are sterilized weekly to insure that no parasites or diseases are able to incubate there and endanger butterflies emerging within the cases.

Small butterflies typically emerge within 3-5 days of arrival, while larger butterflies typically emerge within 5-10 days.

Occasionally a butterfly will begin to emerge from their chrysalis during the processing, as happened in this case. (Photo by Morgan Niezing)

Butterflies are placed in transfer cages once they emerge and are then released into the Conservatory at an average rate of one hundred per week for Butterfly House visitors to enjoy with their families.

Morgan Niezing
Digital Media Intern

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