Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Industry/Bureaucracy of Butterflies

Our trip to Florida featured a delightful afternoon at what we called the Butterfly Museum, but the formal name of the place is The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservancy (link). I’m showing an exterior view of the place—which hides the glass-domed conservatory where up to 60 butterfly varieties live peacefully with 20 exotic bird species, some wondrous orchids and bewilderingly many tropical trees and plants, and, in a little rock-ringed lakelet fed by running, bubbling streams some rather showy goldfish. Orchids are present, not least a variety called the Butterfly Orchid, because coevolution marks the growing and the flying creatures, among the latter, of course, also moths. The place is enchanting—but if you are a photographer also maddening. Nature has endowed these creatures with marvelous gifts of motion. They don’t hold still.



As we ambled along, I approached an attendant. “Tell me,” I said, making a gesture in the air. “How do you raise so many kinds?” “We buy them,” he said. This was the start of a brief but enlightening exchange. I learned of butterfly farms, many in Florida, that breed many varieties and supply them to conservatories and also sell a more limited variety to the public at large. Do you wish to release a quite visible swarm of them at your wedding? No problem. Or perhaps you wish to include an “activity” for your grade-school biology class? The industry is waiting. It is ready to supply you with eggs, caterpillars, chrysalides, or the living butterflies themselves—and ancillary products are on sale as well, not least dozens of varieties of butterfly plants, translucent containers in which your butterflies can gambol (some taller than a man), and other objects that, together, are sold as “kits.”

Later I learned that transporting butterflies (at any stage of life) across state lines is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Butterfly raisers must get certifications for every variety. Why? Well, some are viewed as plant pests, and the long arm of commercial interest is aided by USDA regulation. The stray thought occurs (but then vanishes again as rapidly as a butterfly eludes the hand-held Kodak) that butterflies may be much more stringently regulated than financial instruments that swarm outward from Wall Street.

As for us, we intend to stay beneath the radar that flies threateningly but invisibly in the skies above us. If a Monarch or a Swallowtail, a Painted Lady or a Red Admiral should fall in love with our dill and lay an egg, we’ll nurture it in coming months and only inflict on you, the anxious public, a photo or two of what comes forth…

1 comment:

  1. What do you know? It turns out that if the government regulated Wall Street as well as it regulates butterflies, we wouldn't be in this mess!

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