Good question. I posed it to Tony Hardwick, salesman for EF International, "the butterfly guys" who are first-timers in the flower show marketplace. "Welllll...." he said. Guess he's been asked that a few thousand times. (Read for yourself at thebutterflyguys.com)
I admit to being skeptical. Did the show folks do their homework on this one? I guess so, because Tony told the tale: They have 11 butterfly farms in Peru, which has 4,000 species of butterflies (as opposed to the U.S., which is down to about 350). EP International has about 600 represented in their booth. Stop by. The colors and patterns are remarkable.
No butterflies were killed for this "art." In fact, EF International says they farm raise the butterflies, rather than catch them in the wild, as part of a conservation effort. They get to work after the creatures die, which typically happens in less than two weeks. Then they're "embalmed". Here's how it works:
The butterfly dies with its wings closed, so the taxidermist's most important task is to get those wings into an open position. Then they're embalmed, quarantined, dissected - and the pieces put back together with epoxy in the open position.
Weird to see these exquisite creatures in perfect - dead - form and framed in glass. But that's what's for sale. This one goes for $499. Names of the butterflies are on the back of the frame.
Tony sells this butterfly art all at about 30 shows a year, all over the country, from the Alaska State Fair and balloon festivals in Jersey to flower shows and festivals up and down the East Coast. He came to Philly because "we've always heard this was a very good show and it's a nice city."
Too bad everyone has to ask that not-nice question: You don't kill any butterflies, do you?