Rare birdwing butterflies star in federal case against NY man accused of trafficking insects

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NEW YORK (AP) — Birdwing butterflies are among the rarest and largest to grace the planet, their 10-inch wingspans flapping through the rainforests of Southeast Asia and Australia. Their sheer size can make them hard to miss.

But the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn says Charles Limmer made tens of thousands of dollars over the past year by illegally trafficking scores of flying insects, including endangered birdwings — whose numbers have fallen because of diminishing habitat and illegal poaching.

The six-count indictment against Limmer, 75, accuses him of working with overseas collaborators to smuggle some 1,000 lepidoptera, including some of the rarest and most endangered moths and butterflies in the world.

Federal authorities in New York say the Long Island man smuggled dried specimens of the species, circumventing U.S. laws by labeling shipments as “decorative wall coverings,” “origami paper craft” and “wall decorations.”

Attempts to reach Limmer by phone and email were unsuccessful.

Federal law prohibits the commercial export or import of wildlife without permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Additional authorization would need to be secured for endangered species, as part of an international partnership to protect wildlife from trafficking.

Limmer previously had a federal license to import and export wildlife, but it was suspended in October 2022.

Since then, the indictment alleges, Limmer illegally imported and exported more than $200,000 worth of shipments.

An eBay page of a seller going by “limmerleps” shows the account had made more than 4,600 sales on the shopping platform, many of the most recent sales were moths and butterflies. There were two birdwing specimens currently on sale and two were sold over the past year, according to the website.

An Etsy page connected to a seller going by the name “Limmer” had four ads for birdwings still advertised on Wednesday, including featuring a collection of five specimens with an asking price of $133.

The indictment also seeks to force Limmer to give up his collection of some 1,000 butterflies, moths and other insects prosecutors say he illegally procured from overseas.

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