Keeping Butterflies as Pets

The monarch butterfly

When most of us think of pets, we think of furry and cuddly animals. However, insects are pets too, and today we take a closer look at butterflies as one beautiful example.

Butterflies are herbivores and typically have a life span of six to eight months. The North American monarchs are known for their colorful exterior and long migration routes to Mexico. There are some concerns about their habitats along migration routes, but they are still kept as pets and in zoo exhibits.

Monarch butterflies live all around the world and are poisonous enough to make an animal sick if eaten. The common North American variety is not poisonous but bears the same appearance, thus helping the insect to avoid predators.

What’s in a Name?

Butterflies received their name because of excrement that resembled butter and from a folk tale that because butterflies were commonly seen around milk pails, they were witches trying to steal milk and butter.

Life Span

Monarch butterflies have four stages of life:

  1. Egg: The female monarch lays the egg on the leaf of a plant. The egg hatches within three to five days.
  2. Larva: The egg hatches, and a caterpillar is released. The caterpillar will typically molt (shed its skin) four times before turning into what we recognize as a cocoon.
  3. Pupa: The caterpillar spins silk to create the cocoon and attaches to a branch. The entire body is reorganized and emerges as a butterfly 10 to 12 days later.
  4. Adult: Butterflies no longer grow during this stage and feed off liquids. Adults will reproduce.

Female monarchs try to find a milkweed plant so the emerging caterpillar has an immediate food source. Males can be distinguished from females by a dark spot on the hind wing that releases pheromones, while females have thicker wing veins.

Butterfly Releases

One ceremony most of us are familiar with or may have seen at weddings or funerals is a butterfly release. Companies in several different countries sell kits and individual butterflies for this purpose. The butterflies are placed in cool packaging and usually shipped as shown below:

Once received, the butterflies are kept cool to remain in a dormant state until an hour or two before their release. They are released in individual packaging or in a single container such as this:

Keeping Butterflies as Pets

Many children are fascinated with the pretty colors and friendly nature of butterflies. They may see them in nature or at zoo exhibits, and butterflies can be purchased alone or with kits for children to raise and maintain.

There are also several organizations that are trying to protect the monarch butterfly from extinction and the degradation of its habitats. Kids can get involved, whether raising one as a pet or learning more information online, and some organizations are specific to certain areas.

Some adults and children express a fear of butterflies because they consider them a harmful insect. Visiting the butterfly exhibit at your local zoo or introducing people to them as pets may ease the fear they experience when seeing one.

Do you have any experience with butterflies or butterfly kits? Tell us in a comment below.

Photo: frontendeveloper/Flickr

From Around the Web

  • MyMove

    Instead of having a butterfly in a cage at home, it may be more entertaining for your children to have a butterfly garden. Not only are they fun for children to play in, but it will help beautify your home. I really enjoyed that wedding video. Heehee. The last butterfly just did not want to leave!

  • Katy knight

    I found what I believe to be a swallowtail butterfly in my neighbors house while taking care of his cats, unfortunately the cats tore her wings apart so she can’t fly, and also lost two legs. She was still alive though and I couldn’t just leave her there to die so I took her home and put her in a terrarium with soil and a fish tank frond. I made her sugar water, which she she didn’t show any interest in until I very lightly dabbed a small bit on her tongue, which then she went crazy with her tongue and started searching for the liquid. Going on night one, she’s still alive and seems to be doing just fine. However, I have never kept a butterfly before and since she can’t fly anymore it looks like she’ll be with me for life. I’m hoping I can give her the best of care in her final days. I am at least glad she’s eating.