How to Breed Butterflies? The Complete Guide
When discussing the topic of pets, butterflies are probably not the first thing coming to your mind. Yet, butterfly breeders are a thing, and if you’re a butterfly passionate, willing to get a few as exotic pets, you’re in the right place.
Today, we will discuss butterflies, their life cycle, environmental needs, and other aspects that you need to know as a future breeder. Today’s article might be more in-depth than those dealing with other insects, like Mantids, because butterflies have different needs and breeding requirements.
With that being said, here’s what to know about these insects as a future butterfly breeder:
Selecting a Pair
This step is crucial since not all butterflies can adapt to the same environments. The US has the Monarch butterfly as one of the many endemic species, which already seems like a fit contender. If you’re not that keen about the Monarch, I suggest researching the topic and settle for a pair endemic to the US or similar habitats.
Invasive species coming from more exotic corners of the globe may have difficulties often assimilating radical environmental changes. And, since butterflies are generally sensitive creatures, you want to minimize the impact that the local environment might subject them to.
By doing so, you will protect your future generation of butterflies against environmental factors that they may not be adapted to.
Butterflies are seasonal creatures, meaning that you should raise them during spring and summer. The coming of autumn marks the end of your relationship with them, as I recommend freeing them so they can start looking for warmer places. This means that the breeding environment should be warm and not too humid, filled with vegetation.
If you’re a Monarch breeder, an abundance of milkweed is a must, especially during the first stages of the butterfly’s life. The caterpillar is a voracious creature capable of devouring impressive amounts of milkweed foliage.
The caterpillar will also molt several times during this phase, each providing a boost in growth. The final stage marks its transition towards a pupa and, subsequently, the butterfly.
All these phases require a lot of energy, which the caterpillar will get from constant eating throughout the day. Combine this with the sunny environment and plenty of shade to provide coverage, and your new generation of butterflies will be ready to arrive.
The word you’re looking for is lepidopterarium, but we’ll get to that later. When it comes to butterflies, the breeding enclosure should change according to the creature’s life cycle. The first phase in the butterfly’s life cycle begins with the eggs. I recommend keeping the eggs and the emerging larvae (caterpillars) in a secluded enclosure, preferably sealed with a net.
You should pay attention to the sealing aspect since young caterpillars are masters at escaping an unsealed pen. The enclosure will have specific plants designed to feed the larvae after hatching. You should place the eggs on the plants’ leaves, just like adult butterflies do in the wild. This will provide the larvae with immediate access to the food they desperately need as soon as they’re born.
Beginning with the second week of life, you should move the caterpillars into the main area called a lepidopterarium. This specific enclosure can accommodate multiple individuals, rich in vegetation and mimicking the butterflies’ natural habitat. It can vary in size and accommodations, depending on the species and number of butterflies you’re willing to have.
I recommend researching this aspect before getting the eggs and establish your long-term goals to achieve the best results.
Mating and Egg Laying
When it comes to butterflies, romanticism is the word of the day. The mating process alone is a process to behold if you’ve never experienced it, and you can only experience a minuscule part of it. The real magic happens beyond what the profane can witness with their own eyes.
To put it briefly, here’s how the mating process occurs in the butterfly world:
- Colorful display – It all begins with the metamorphosis process when the nymph builds its cocoon to transition into the butterfly. Nature has given butterflies ravishing colors for the sole purpose of attracting mates and promote reproductive competition. You can use a butterfly’s colors to differentiate between males and females or distinguish between those that might have more chances at spreading their genes than others.
- A touch of perfume – Butterflies use pheromones to make their intentions known and seek their partner at the same time. Some pheromones are so powerful, and some butterflies have such a developed sense of smell that adult males can sense the sex odor from over 10 miles away. This can help them detect females ready to mate and follow the trail to them.
- The acoustic competition – Once the female is found, the males will begin to use a subtle acoustic display to make their intentions known. The amazing detail is that the same sound functions as a deterrent for other males to enter the area since it resembles the bats’ hunting noises. The males often form a choir near the female, displaying their vocal performances to allow the latter to choose one of them.
- The air ballet – Once the female has given a male the green light, the dance may begin. The male will fly around the female, looking to spread as many pheromones as possible, which doesn’t guarantee success. The male may need to face many rejections before gaining the female’s acceptance. When that happens, the female will spread her wings and reveal her abdomen, signaling her predisposition to mate.
- The butterfly’s life cycle – The cycle begins at the egg stage, as the female will lay them onto the surrounding plants. Some butterfly species may produce a couple of dozen eggs, others will lay several hundred, while some species will produce over 1,000. The eggs will result in caterpillars, which will begin eating their way into the pupa stage almost immediately. The caterpillar will grow about 100 times the size of the original egg, eat as much as it can, and undergo 4 to 5 molting phases as it grows. The pupa or the chrysalis is represented by the cocoon, which marks the transformative process resulting in the adult butterfly.
Care for Newborn Caterpillars
The caterpillars don’t need too much personalized care. They need a warm and humid environment with sunlight and enough shade to keep them protected. And, oh, a lot of food. As much as you can, especially if you’re more prolific at breeding butterflies.
Caterpillars will spend their entire time eating and growing, and having an abundance of plants to chew on will certainly help.
You should also provide the caterpillars with an earthy substrate since many butterfly species will prefer to cocoon in the soil, compared to hanging from branches. Other than that, you should give the caterpillar room to do its thing and watch the ugly worm turn into a majestic butterfly at the end of several days as a pupa.
How Many Times do Butterflies Breed?
The answer might sound depressing, but it’s once. Since many butterfly species’ lifespan is about one to two weeks, they only have time to mate once, lay their eggs, and prepare for the final phase in their lives. There are, clearly, exceptions to the rule since not all butterflies only live two weeks. As a US endemic species, the Monarch can live an average of 9 months in the wild, while the Painted Lady can reach 12 months.
There are no butterflies known to live more than one year. However, no matter their lifespan, all butterflies will only mate once in their lives, after which everything is downhill from there. Their entire life’s purpose is to spread their genes, and once that is achieved, the magic passes onto the future generation of caterpillars, ready to begin their metamorphosis.
What Plants Are Best for Breeding Butterflies?
The selection of plants to consider for your butterfly population depends on where the butterflies originate. If the species is local, your job is easy. Make sure you have local plants and flowers that butterflies prefer both as caterpillars and as adult individuals. I suggest researching the topic a bit and learn which plants are ideal for the species of butterfly you’re getting.
If you prefer the Monarch, for instance, your job is way simpler, to begin with. That’s because the Monarch only eats milkweed, hence the name “milkweed butterfly.” Other butterfly species may prefer dill, asters, violets, yellow coneflowers, goldenrod, Joe-Pye weed, ironweed, etc. The plant variation is so high that I definitely recommend researching the aspect before choosing the species you will focus on.
Do Butterflies Die After Mating?
Yes, they do, but not at the same time and not immediately. The male will generally live several days to weeks post-mating after all the sperm is gone. He will not create more or mate with any other female after the first sexual contact.
The female, however, will die shortly after laying the eggs, which means that, just like the male, she too will only mate once in her lifetime. The female will be sexually mature as soon as emerging from the pupa, and it will begin looking for a potential mate right away.
The conclusion is pretty simple. Butterflies make for an exquisite choice as pets with unique environmental needs and a memorable and outstanding life cycle. If you’re passionate, this article provides you with in-depth insight into the world of butterflies, and I’m ready to fill in the gaps if necessary.
Contact me directly via the contact form or write a message below, and I will do my best to answer all questions regarding the topic.