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Butterfly Release: A Misguided Practice
Most butterfly farms sell only to exhibitions, educators and responsible collectors, who keep the adult butterflies in captivity. Breeding butterflies for release into the wild at special events poses serious risks to wild butterfly populations and is not endorsed by conservationists.
Callaway Gardens, situated on 2500 acres in Southwest Georgia, is a popular destination for anyone wishing to enjoy the gardens, the Day Butterfly Center, golfing, and recreation. We also host hundreds of weddings throughout the year. Recently, the fad of releasing butterflies at weddings has become an important issue and we, at Callaway Gardens, felt it necessary to make some changes.
A few weeks ago a bride contacted me to request that she be able to release Monarch butterflies at her wedding. I asked her where she was purchasing the butterflies and she replied California. At that, I informed her that not only would the release be potentially harmful for the butterflies but also that the release would be illegal! She was quite surprised when I informed her and conceded that releasing butterflies was not the best way to celebrate her wedding.
This incident has prompted Callaway Gardens to prohibit any sort of butterfly release in the
gardens. Visitors can see numerous species of native and exotic butterflies here
at Callaway Gardens and it won't cost them extra money! I hope that other botanical gardens,
nature centers and zoos, where many weddings and special events take place, will follow suit
and inform people of the possible deleterious effects of unnatural butterfly releases.
Director, Day Butterfly Center
The National Wildlife Federation discourages releases of commercially obtained butterflies for a number of reasons, including:
Releasing butterflies can result in the possible introduction of species into areas where they are not native, possible carrying and spreading diseases at the same time.
Even if a species is native, a farmed population has a different genetic make-up than the population into which it is being introduced. This might result in negative effects on local populations.
Introductions are not the solution to dwindling butterfly populations. Habitat conservation and the elimination of pesticides from the food chain are better solutions.
Butterfly releases could unleash problems for state wildlife
It looks like a harmless, uplifting way to end a wedding ceremony, but the popular practice of releasing mail-ordered butterflies could leave a legacy of lasting damage, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologists warn. The biologists' chief concern is that released butterflies could decimate their native counterparts here by introducing disease, competing for food and altering survival behavior by interbreeding with them. Many of the state's native butterflies already are under pressure because their native habitat is vanishing--one species already is on the state's endangered species list, another is recommended to be added to the list of threatened animals and 12 more are candidates for state protection listings. "This activity has the potential to do a lot of damage, and I don't think the people doing it realize that," said Ann Potter, a WDFW wildlife biologist.
Released butterflies generally are mail-ordered or purchased over the Internet from out-of-state dealers, and may originate from far-flung locations in North American or abroad. Businesses are supposed to have a state Department of Agriculture permit in order to sell them to state residents. In addition, a WDFW permit is required to release wildlife and that includes butterflies. The Department must evaluate the potential damage such releases can cause.
Ceremonial butterfly releases are a relatively recent but increasingly popular custom. In addition, mail-ordering butterflies for students to raise and release is becoming a staple of schoolroom science projects. Releasing non-native animals of any kind teaches a poor lesson, Potter said, because their effect on the local environment is unpredictable and potentially devastating. Examples abound of non-native fish, animals and plants which overrun their new settings because they lack natural predators. Potter cites the case of the gypsy moth, introduced in Massachusetts in the 1800s by silk producers eager to improve the vigor and productivity of their silk worms. The introduced moth has gone on to cause widespread damage to forest land and has prompted widespread pesticide spraying.
Butterflies are especially vulnerable to introduced intruders because native butterfly populations are small and localized to specific areas. Introductions of even a few non-local butterflies of breeding age could "swamp" the natives, Potter said. Wild, migratory butterflies which spend part of the year here also could be harmed if they bred with introduced butterflies and their offspring lost their migratory instincts.Contact: Ann Potter (360) 902-2496 or Margaret Ainscough (360) 902-2408