Belize Butterfly Safari
A number of butterfly “farms” or “ranches” have been built around Belize, and a visit to one is always a pleasant, educational, and colorful experience. Many began as export businesses, to raise butterflies for foreign zoos and classrooms, but now feature screened-in rooms where you’ll see the creatures fluttering about your head as you walk through.
Butterfly farms pay as much attention to the plants that provide the larval food as to the pupae and winged creatures. Different species often have different tastes and needs. Depending on where you are in the country, you’ll see the intense blue morpho as well as the white morpho, which is white but shot with iridescent blue. Three species of the owl butterfly (genus Caligo) love to come and lunch on the overripe fruit. You’ll also see tiny heliconians and large yellow and white pierids, among many, many more.
A butterfly goes from tiny teardroplike egg to colorful caterpillar, to pupae, and then graceful adult. Butterfly farms gather breeding populations of typical Belizean species in the pupal stage, and then the pupae are carefully “hung” in what is called an emerging cage with a simulated “jungle” atmosphere — hot and humid (not hard to do in Belize). A short time later they shed their pupal skin, and a tiny bit of Belize flutters away to the amazement and joy of anyone who happens to be present.
Depending on the species, butterflies live anywhere from seven days to six weeks. If you plan to visit a farm, or to go into the rainforest on a butterfly safari, you’ll see much more butterfly activity on a sunny day than on an overcast day. If it’s raining, forget it!
In many areas of Belize, butterfly populations have been almost totally depleted for many reasons, including habitat destruction (from logging, for instance) and changing farming practices, particularly the use of pesticides. Belize’s steamy marshes, swamps, and rainforest have been a natural breeding ground for beautiful butterflies for thousands of years and hopefully will continue to be so.
In the Cayo District, Green Hills Butterfly Ranch and Botanical Collections on the Mountain Pine Ridge Road is a butterfly breeding, educational, and interpretive center. Another readily accessible butterfly farm, with one of the highest numbers of species, is Tropical Wings Nature Center, just outside San José Succotz. There’s an excellent interpretive center, a guided tour, and a disc golf course and café for when you’ve finished. Down the road from Tropical Wings, The Lodge at Chaa Creek has the Blue Morpho Butterfly Breeding Center. Naturalists gladly explain the various stages of life the butterfly goes through, with a wonderful little flight room.
In Punta Gorda, you’ll find a small but diverse butterfly reserve at the entrance road to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. It’s right across the creek from the women’s craft co-op in Maya Centre. And there is a treat for butterfly lovers who stay at Hickatee Cottages.
© Joshua Berman and Avalon Travel from Moon Belize, 9th Edition