USA Baldwin’s own Dirk Bayer is getting his very own pavilion at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. The groundbreaking of the zoo’s new Butterfly Exhibit took place this past weekend at a new location on Oak Road off of Alabama 59. The 73-year-old Bon Secour native has been raising, hatching, trading and buying moths and butterflies since the age of 13. Planning of the new exhibit began in 2013 after Zoo Director Patti Hall had witnessed Bayer's jaw-dropping collection of about 10,000 moths and butterflies from 3 to 4 thousand different species.
Bayer's passion for the winged creatures began when his family moved to the States from Berlin, Germany. "When we moved to Long Island, New York my father met another family from Germany. They had a farm in Pennsylvania. We were staying in some cabins on their farm when I woke up real early one morning and looked across the street at this alfalfa field covered in dew. Hovering above were all of these black swallowtail butterflies. It was an incredible site,” said Dirk Bayer. He’s been collecting them ever since.
Along with his older brother, Bayer would collect the species and pin them in cigar boxes. Unfortunately, his brother died in a car accident while pursuing a doctorate in entomology (the science of insects). Bayer met his wife Patsy in New York and would later move to South Alabama where he became a shrimper. "I always carried a net with me. In fact, I would get the neighborhood kids involved in collecting. I offered them a quarter for every moth or butterfly they collected," said Bayer.
He would work with other collectors throughout the world acquiring species from other countries like Indonesia, New Guinea, Australia and Java until the National Invasive Species Act (NISA) of 1990. The United States federal law is intended to prevent invasive species from entering inland waters through ballast water carried by ships. Bayer continues to collect local species and trade with other U.S. hobbyists. And while he enjoys collecting, he also likes to just sit back and marvel at their beauty.
Although Bayer has since retired from shrimping, he still continues part-time maintenance work on the USA Baldwin campus. In each staff member's office, you'll find a shadow box of their personal Monarch butterfly created for them by Bayer. And now the public will soon be able to witness his incredible collection at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo.
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