Ecological Questions

Because the Butterfly Release Industry is relatively new, we as an industry, have been asked questions from time to time about our Butterfly Releases and the affect these practices might have on the environment.  Because the Butterfly Release Industry takes its responsibilities seriously, each area of concern has been addressed with scientific facts from experts in their field.  The IBBA has offered the results in a published document.

I have taken the most common of these questions and listed them below, and have summarized the Industries scientific responses along with some of my own. In addition, I have also included what we at Utterback Farms are specifically doing to assure that our procedures and protocol are absolutely safe, and that our product is absolutely healthy.

After reading these questions and answers, I think you will be pleased with the steps we have taken to address all possible concerns.

Industry wide

  1. Is releasing butterflies into the wild harmful to the environment?

    No, nothing could be more natural. The Monarch butterfly is native to the entire U.S. Actually, releasing farm-reared butterflies into the wild is similar in concept to releasing hatchery-raised trout into lakes and streams.

    Both Butterfly Farms and Fish Hatcheries are rearing a species out of its natural habitat. Both practices are accomplished responsibly and safely. And both are helping to replenish the wild population numbers, while serving humanity in the process. Both are ecologically safe and friendly practices.
  2. Do farm-reared butterflies differ genetically from those in the wild?

    There are two primary mechanisms that can lead to changes in gene frequencies in a domestic colony: genetic drift and natural selection. The direction of change in allele frequencies with genetic drift is random, and is more prevalent in small populations. With selection, on the other hand, the direction is deliberate and linear, modifying the population to emphasize already-existing characteristics that improve the population's fitness. In the long- run, genetic drift and selection cause populations to be very specialized and adapted to their particular environment

    The affect of these mechanisms are kept to a minimum in Monarch insectories, and are reversed after being returned to the wild,1 for the same reasons that the affects of inbreeding are kept to a minimum as listed below.
  3. Is inbreeding a problem?

    No, for the following reasons: 1) Each colony starts over with new stock from the wild every year. 2) The breeding pool is kept respectively large. 3) Infusions of stock from the wild are made into the breeding colony several times throughout the season. 4) Relatively few generations are produced per season. .

    Once the butterflies are released into the wild, any affects of inbreeding are “overturned by a single generation of outcrossing to a larger random-mating population.” 2
  4. Does releasing farm-reared butterflies spread diseases?

    No, for several reasons. First of all, any disease that could be experienced in an insectory, is also present in the wild.3 Secondly, it is impossible for a butterfly farm to produce diseased stock on a sustained level. Once a disease enters the colony of an insectory, production in every stage ceases to advance.4 Production comes to a halt very quickly. Thirdly, even if a diseased butterfly were to be released, it probably wouldn’t mate.5 Fourthly, even if it did mate, the larger pool would control the direction of influence. The offspring would resemble the health and genetics of the larger pool, instead of the butterfly released.6 And fifthly, Monarch Butterfly Farmers are responsible and careful in how they operate, in order to assure their stock is always healthy, clean and safe.

Specific to Utterback Farms

  1. What are we doing to assure that our stock is healthy and safe?

    Utterback Farms has been raising Monarch Butterflies for 14 years. It is impossible to be in this business that long, producing faithfully and reliably each and every week, unless you are doing everything right.

    We spend thousands of dollars every week to keep our production facility operating safely. We sterilize our labs and equipment every day. We use the latest in technology in all of our labs, and a protocol that keeps us microbe free. Our breeding stock is kept clean by way of sterilizing the eggs, and screening the breeder replacements. And we feed the caterpillars all they can eat of our homegrown host plants.

    We also have our butterflies periodically tested at a qualified lab to verify their health. The tests consistently show that our butterflies are cleaner, healthier, larger, more vibrant in color, and are equal in vigor, when compared to those in the wild.

    Click here to see comparative Microbial Agar Dishes (image 1).
    Click here to see gram stains taken from Agar Dishes (image 2).

 

Footnotes:

  1. Dr. Sonia M. Altizer, Scientific Information Presented by International Butterfly Breeders Association, page 5
  2. Dr. Bruce Walsh, Scientific Information Presented by International Butterfly Breeders Association, page 6.
  3. Dr. O.R. Taylor, Scientific Information Presented by International Butterfly Breeders Association, page 9.
  4. Dr. Harry K. Kaya, Ph.D., Scientific Information Presented by International Butterfly Breeders Association, page 7.
  5. Dr. Bruce Walsh, Scientific Information Presented by International Butterfly Breeders Association, page 6.
  6. Dr. Bruce Walsh, Scientific Information Presented by International Butterfly Breeders Association, page 6.