Walt Disney World Resort More Walt Disney World Resort Stories

Wildlife Wednesday: Disney is Helping Boost Butterfly Populations

Anne Savage, Ph.D.

by , Conservation Director, Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment

Whether in Florida or California, the Disney Conservation Fund is helping reverse the decline of butterflies through two unique programs.

The first is a grant program, thanks to the Connect to Protect initiative, that has allowed guests visiting Pandora at Disney’s Animal Kingdom to participate in a mobile game and unlock a $100,000 contribution to help restore the coastal grassland habitat of the critically endangered Mission blue butterfly around the San Francisco Bay area.

The second has Disney supporting the University of Florida’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity to breed the rare and beautiful Atala butterflies and reintroduce them to their native habitat along the east coast of Florida.

Once thought to be extinct, Atala butterflies lay their eggs on only one native plant – the Coontie plant, which has been over-harvested for food and ornamental purposes. In an effort to help bring the butterflies back from the brink, Disney’s Conservation Team has developed a simple system to help raise these rare native insects. Cast members, with the help of the Animal Husbandry team, use climate-controlled butterfly terrariums made completely of recycled, reused or repurposed materials to care for the animals as they undergo metamorphosis. The terrariums are kept on the cast members’ desks at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, where they can be tended to continually.

Butterfly

“It always brightened my day to come in to the office and experience this unique connection to nature right on my desk,” said Liz Clark, general manager of Discovery Island at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. “It was even better knowing that those butterflies then helped pollinate flowers on the coast and contributed to a larger butterfly population.”

When the butterflies emerge, they are taken to Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, where resort guests enjoy the magical experience of releasing the adult butterflies. So far, guests have released more than 650 butterflies at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, and hundreds more are planned to be released.

The conservation team has worked closely with Disney’s Vero Beach Resort and other communities in the area to be sure there are plenty of nectar plants for the butterflies to eat and pesticide-free Coontie plants for them to lay their eggs on. We are delighted by the success of this effort in growing the Atala population along the east coast.

To learn more about how you can help protect butterflies in your area, visit DisneyAnimals.com.