Probably the #1 question I get asked is: "Where do your bugs come from? Do you catch them yourself?" To answer this question, I recently did some research and put together a little pamphlet that tells a little about where my insects come from. I'd like to share that with you here, but first I'd like to also say that no, I do not catch the insects myself. I would never have the patience for that, and besides, almost none of the insects I use are even from the United States! The vast majority of my insects come from international insect farms. Some are farmed for food (yes, look for another blog post on that topic soon!) but most are farmed for the "scientific and artistic dried insect trade". The good news is that insect farming is usually a sustainable practice. I make every attempt to purchase my insects from responsible sources, so when you purchase an insect display from me, you are also helping to promote insect and native forest conservation. I am required to carry a U.S. Fish & Wildlife "Wildlife Import Permit" in order to import my specimans, so they are also regulated in that way. It is illegal for me to import insects that are endangered, and it is also illegal for me to import live insects. So, without further introduction, here is some material on insect farming from my pamphlet:
Why is butterfly farming a type of agriculture that promotes conservation as a whole?
Unlike most other types of agriculture in tropical countries which are dependent upon cleared forest for planting crops or grazing cattle, butterfly farming is very different because it requires intact forest. Because host plants are collected by the farmer for his/her use in rearing the larvae, the butterfly farm is dependent upon a parcel of land which is forested. In addition, butterfly farmers rear butterflies in captivity within the confines of an enclosure, thus putting no strain on the wild populations of butterflies.
Fact: The farming of butterflies actually increases native habitats and populations. It is even being used today to save some species from extinction.
Butterfly farming and ranching have demonstrated that butterflies can provide economic incentives to villagers and farmers who may have to decide where to harvest firewood or clear forest for agriculture. By offering supplemental income in exchange for preserving and enhancing butterfly habitats, many plant and animal species native to tropical rain forests will indirectly benefit. Today, successful commercial butterfly farming and ranching projects are operating in North, Central and South America, Uganda, Madagascar, China, Southeast Asia, New Guinea, and Australia.
Organizations like the World Wildlife Fund have included such projects in their conservation programs for countries with rich rainforest biodiversity, such as Indonesia. If carefully managed farming and ranching programs are introduced to areas with dwindling rain forests, economic incentives for conservation can play an important role in a transition to sustainable use of the earth's most diverse ecosystems.
Birdwing Butterflies in PNG: A Positive Example
Birdwings inhabit the sunny rainforest canopy, feeding on nectar-filled flowers growing many metres above ground level. The butterfly only comes to earth when the canopy dips into river channels or natural openings. The typical butterfly farm in PNG (Papua New Guinea) is a half-acre of land that was once a productive vegetable garden site previously cleared from the prime forest. The soil may be too depleted to grow corn or sweet potato but is fertile enough to sustain the vines needed for a butterfly garden.
The process is simple. First, plant a border of Poinsettia and Hibiscus. Within the flowering border transplant rows of aristolochia and other vines. The border acts to attract and feed the adult specimens who breed and lay eggs on the vines which provide ample food for the offspring. The larvae feed on the vines for four weeks, spin their chrysalis and spend four more weeks in metamorphosis. The farmer observes the food supply, notes the location of his/her caterpillars, and determines the maturation of the chrysalises. About 70 percent of the butterfly chrysalis crop can be harvested and brought into a protected hatching cage. The remaining 30 percent is left on the vine to regenerate and complete their natural life cycle (in the wild).
With the cultivated garden providing an over-abundance of food, and because human presence discourages natural predation, the population of free flight butterflies is greatly enhanced. The newly emerged caged butterflies are carefully killed, placed in paper envelopes and dried in the sun. When sufficient butterflies have been collected they are packaged and mailed to the Insect Farming and Trading Agency (IFTA) in Bulolo, Morobe Province. The IFTA inspects, sorts, labels and markets the specimens to buyers around the world. These orders generate US$400,000 for PNG annually. Dr. Peter Clark, Director of IFTA, believes the project re-inforces in villagers that "the environment can be used but not abused, and the forest can serve a good purpose for a longer period than it takes to chop it down. With the right tools [villagers] can make some money yet pass onto their children the same natural treasures they received from their parents."
Wild specimens of common butterflies are sometimes included in the scheme, but most are rejected due to damage sustained in the wild or during capture. Participants are encouraged to farm rather than hunt the butterflies. All Birdwing species are protected from capture in the wild; only individuals with inspected gardens are licensed to sell the rare Ornithoptera Paradisea,
Alexandrae, Goliath, Priamus Poseidon or Priamus Urvillanus butterflies.