Butterflies have always intrigued me with their bright colors and unique patterns. Butterflies are one of the 10 at-risk animals that the Disney Conservation Fund and Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment team is protecting through its “Reverse the Decline, Increase the Time” initiative. Unlike many of the “Reverse the Decline” species, you can spot butterflies in your own backyard. They are found on every continent except Antarctica, and there are around 20,000 species!
Butterflies face many dangers, from weather patterns to habitat loss, and many species, like the Atala butterfly, are on the brink of extinction. The Atala butterfly is an example of how unsustainable agriculture can cause habitat loss and the disappearance of native species. This butterfly can only lay its eggs on a single species of native plant, the Coontie palm, and when that plant became rare in the wild due to overharvesting, the butterfly disappeared as well.
A breeding program is now in place to make sure the Atala butterfly will be around for years to come! To kick it off, Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment cast members raised Atala butterflies at their desks. Twenty-seven cast members received terrariums and watched as the little caterpillars turned into butterflies. Around 100 butterflies were raised and then taken to Disney’s Vero Beach Resort for guests to release in a restored habitat. To date, guests have released about 260 butterflies at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, and the butterflies have now formed a breeding population in the restored habitat.
Another way our cast members are getting involved is through butterfly surveys. Some species of butterflies are so rare that we don’t know how many butterflies are left in the wild or what their current range is. Gathering this information is critical to reversing their population declines. This year, we played an active role in gather data on several species, including the elusive Dukes’ Skipper butterfly. This butterfly is native to Central Florida and has been seen less frequently since the 1990s.
Just like our cast members, you can help ‘Reverse the Decline’ of butterflies by taking the following steps:
- Create a butterfly garden filled with plants that native species enjoy. Once you learn what types of butterflies visit your garden, research what plants they lay their eggs on, and add them to your garden!
- If you see caterpillars in your garden, make sure you don’t spray them with pesticides! They may chew on your plants a bit, but the plants will grow back and you will be helping populate the world with beautiful butterflies.
- Reduce food waste by composting to fertilize your garden.
On your next visit to Walt Disney World Resort, stop by the butterfly gardens located at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, or at Rafiki’s Planet Watch in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and see how many butterflies you can spot!
For more information about butterflies and many other animals, visit DisneyAnimals.com.