A Bradenton woman makes her living breeding butterflies -- an operation mixing beauty and business.
Connie Hodsdon's office is a colorful hideaway to hundreds of winged wonders.
"I raise butterflies to be released at funerals, weddings, memorials, celebrations," she explained.
She started her Bradenton business, Flutterby Gardens, 15 years ago. That wasn't the start of her infatuation with the insects, though.
"Well, I've been messing around with butterflies since I was just knee-high to a grasshopper, just 3 years old," she laughed.
Her love turned out to be lucrative. She sells nearly 25,000 of the fluttering creatures each year.
"My day starts very early and it ends very late. It's all depending on the cycle of the butterflies," Hodsdon continued.
The breeding process begins in a larva laboratory, where eggs are incubated and eventually evolve into caterpillars. Then, Hodsdon serves up a salad bar of sorts to satisfy about a dozen different breeds.
"They each have their own plant species that they consume," Hodsdon said.
In about six weeks, they hatch into beautiful butterflies. Warm weather speeds up the process.
The butterflies are shipped in individual wax paper-like envelopes, and placed in a light-weight container with cool packs on either side.
"Since they're a cold-blooded insect, temperature changes alter their behavior. So when you reduce the temperature, to them it's like a cold winter day and they're just going to remain calm and wait until it warms up," Hodsdon said.
She follows strict regulations to make sure the butterflies thrive wherever they're released, nurturing a near-perfect product from start to finish.
"I never think about the work that's involved. I just think about all those beautiful butterflies that wouldn't be here if we didn't do what we do," she smiled.
Flutterby Gardens has sold thousands of butterflies over the years for different events and celebrations. Some of Hodsdon's butterflies are also featured in a Target commercial set to air this spring.