05 June 2017

Disney's Butterfly Conservation

The name has changed a bit over the past 21 years, but the Disney Conversation Fund continues to collaborate with non-profit organizations in order to build upon efforts to save endangered animals. As part of the Reverse the Decline, Increase the Time initiative, the Disney Conservation Fund wishes to engage more children in outdoor activities that bring them into contact with the natural world and all the creatures that reside in it. Ten classifications of animals have been selected as focal points for these efforts: butterflies, corals, cranes, elephants, great apes, rays, rhinos, sea turtles, sharks, tamarin monkeys, and tigers. Overall, the fund is has been operating with partners in 115 countries, working with over 400 species. While much of this work can be seen all throughout Walt Disney World, some of the smallest, the butterflies, can get overlooked.

I will grant that Disney’s work with butterflies tends to get a spotlight during the annual Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, but throughout the rest of the year it tends to go unnoticed. It’s a shame, because if you’re paying attention to the butterflies there is so much to see and learn. In fact, Walt Disney World is home to over 70 species of butterflies. As a founding member of Florida’s Butterfly Monitoring Network, Disney has reserved spaces all throughout Walt Disney World to monitor the various butterfly species found there, identify the endangered species, observe population patterns, and develop conservation strategies.

This work stretches beyond the borders of the Vacation Kingdom, as Disney’s Butterfly Conservation has already begun to reverse the decline of one butterfly species. The atala hairstreak was native to Florida, but due to a loss of their host plant, the coontie plant, they were believed to be have gone extinct. Rediscovered in the 1970s near Miami, Disney has sought to reinvigorate the repopulation efforts by planting coontie and nectar plants throughout the Atlantic coast resort, Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, and by breeding the butterflies at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

To assist butterflies as they move throughout Walt Disney World, not to mention other habitats beyond the resorts and parks, many of the resorts have set aside garden spaces specifically for butterflies that are native to the region. One such example, at Port Orleans – Riverside, can be found right outside the doors of Riverside Mill Food Court. While the plants selected to reside in this garden may look and smell appealing to guests, those are only outlying results to providing host plants for swallowtails, sulphurs, zebra longwings, skippers, ceraunus blues, and monarchs to name just a few.

While butterflies may be gorgeous to look at, they are indispensable to pollination process. In conjunction with other pollinators (bugs, bees, and bats, oh my…), these pollinators account for almost a third of the plants required for foods people eat. The next time you’re chasing a butterfly through Walt Disney World, trying to capture that great photograph, take time to thank these incredible creatures. And be on the lookout for the gardens planted to help them, and you, out!