Grade 3-5, 6-8

From Butterflies to Buffaloes

Updated: April 18 2024,
Author: Cheryl McGaughey

Nature tourism, also known as ecotourism, is a fast growing segment of the tourism industry. In this lesson, students learn what ecotourism is and explore how conservation of our natural resources can be profitable.



Have you ever been on vacation with your family visiting another city or state or perhaps to a resort area such as Disney World? If so, then you were a tourist.
Have you ever been an eco-tourist? In order to answer, you must first understand what eco-tourism is. Eco-tourism is tourism with a primary focus on visiting natural areas to gain a greater understanding and appreciation. It is one of our fastest growing types of tourism. Many people today live in urban or suburban areas yet still want to enjoy the outdoors and nature. Activities such as bird watching, hiking, and touring natural areas are types of eco-tourism In this lesson, you will learn about some eco-tourism businesses and how these businesses earn a profit.

Learning Objectives

  • Identify some of the major types of eco-tourism activities.
  • Calculate the potential profit for an eco-tourism entrepreneur.

Resource List


The International Eco-tourism Society has surveyed people in the United States about which nature-related activities they have participated in over the last year. Can you think of any nature-related activities you have done recently? Look at the list of nature related activities and see how many of them apply to you and your family.

As more people enjoy nature-related activities, businesses are being started that offer these and other related activities. Eco-tourism businesses, just like other businesses, must make a profit to stay in business. Let’s look at a few of these eco-tourism businesses.

Corn prices in recent years have been so low that some farmers have not been able to make a profit raising corn. A new way to make a profit from corn farming is to create corn mazes and charge admission.  Click on the link to read about some amazing!find-a-maize/c115p . You can click on the map to read information about the mazes and see pictures of them. Does your state have any mazes listed? If there are none listed, discuss why you think there aren’t any. Do you think people in your community would pay to visit a corn maze if one were available?

In addition to corn mazes, many farmers are now raising a completely new kind of crop – butterflies. There are now over 150 butterfly farms in the United States. Why are farmers raising butterflies? Find out by reading the article called “About the Butterfly Farm” . (NOTE: you need to click on “All About Butterfly Farming”) What are some of the places or markets discussed in the article? [The hobby market, butterfly gardens, the wedding release market.] In addition to raising butterflies for one or more of the markets above, many butterfly farmers give tours and charge admission.

Some former cattle ranchers are now raising buffaloes (or more precisely, American bison). Buffalo meat is growing in popularity as it is considered by many people to be leaner and thus healthier to eat than meat from cattle. When people choose to buy goods that are similar to other goods but may be cheaper or better, this is known as substitute goods. When consumers buy buffalo meat instead of beef, they are buying a substitute good. In addition to raising buffaloes to sell the meat, many buffalo ranchers give tours on their ranches to tourists who are interested in seeing buffaloes in their natural habitats. Read this article about a typical bison tour . How much does a tour cost? [$6 per adult, $5 per child.] In what season of the year would you expect to see the most business for buffalo tours at this ranch? [Summer, when people are on vacation and the weather is good.]

Which of the three activities discussed (corn mazes, butterfly tours or buffalo tours) would you most like to do? Why?


Ask the students what they think the farmers or landowners did with the land before they used it for eco-tourism Discuss why the farmers and landowners most likely changed from their previous business venture to an eco-tourism business [They saw an opportunity to make more profit, there is possibly less work, or a desire to conserve the environment.]


Reinforce the concept of profit and that this is a major business goal that can be combined with conservation of land.

Discuss why some ranchers and farmers are becoming eco-tourist entrepreneurs.

Are there any eco-tourism related businesses in your area? If not, can you think of any possibilities for developing profitable eco-tourism sites or activities.

Extension Activity

For additional interaction, have the students search online for eco-tourism businesses in their town or area. If there is a local zoo, this would be a good example and trigger a discussion of the differences between a profit and non-profit organization.


Have the students click here to complete this interactive fill-in-the-blank activity, which addresses the information below.

Farmer Bob is a butterfly farmer who raises only Monarch butterflies. He charges $95 per dozen for the butterflies. (Many of his customers buy butterflies so that they can release them at weddings.) Monarch butterflies only eat milkweed plants. An average milkweed plant costs $3.00 and one plant will feed, on average, one butterfly. In addition to the cost of the milkweed plants, Farmer Bob has fertilizer, water and labor costs of about $20 per dozen butterflies. Calculate the profit (Profit = total sales in dollars – total costs in dollars) per dozen butterflies for Farmer Bob.
[$3 x 12 = $36 cost of the milkweed per dozen + $20 other costs per dozen butterflies for a profit = $95 – $36 – 20 = $39 per dozen butterflies].

If Farmer Bob expects to sell 150 dozen butterflies for wedding releases this year, what will his total profit be?

[150 x 39 = $5,850]

Since the most important season for butterflies is spring and summer, Farmer Bob has decided to plant 10 acres of corn to create a corn maze in the fall. Seed corn costs $25 per acre and fertilizer costs are $15 per acre. Other costs, such as fuel for his tractor and labor costs, will total $1,200. Farmer Bob has decided to charge $5 per person to visit his corn maze. If he expects 1,500 people to visit his maze this fall, what will his profit from the maze be?

[Profit = Total dollar sales – total dollar costs

Total dollar sales = 1500 x 5 = $7,500
Total dollar costs = $25 X 10 acres = $250 for seed corn
$15 x 10 acres = $150 for fertilizer
$1,200 for other costs =
$1,600 total costs
Profit from the corn maze = $7,500 – $1,600 = $5,900]

What is the total profit for Farmer Bob from the butterfly farm and corn maze? [$5,850 + $5,900 = $11,750].

Ask the students if they think Farmer Bob has made enough profit on his land. Discuss if they think Farmer Bob might have any other income (other crops, raising livestock, etc.).