Raising butterflies for profit

Monday, 27 June 2011 08:00
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by Jims Vincent Capuno

I attended recently the wedding of my friend’s daughter.  There was nothing unusual about the program until something caught my attention.  It was when the bride got a box full of butterflies and released them into the air.  The audience clapped their hands; I was stunned.  It was the first time I saw such an entrancing event.
“Butterflies are like flowers with wings,” a world-renowned Malaysian poet once penned.  Indeed, there’s no better way of celebrating the beginning of a couple’s married life than with a cloud of these magical creatures?
After the wedding, I talked with my friend about it and he told me that they got the butterflies from the Davao Butterfly House.  Immediately, I called up Philip “Sonny” Dizon to ask him how much they are selling their butterflies.  “Fifty pesos each,” he replied.
The Philippines is not the only country where butterflies are sold commercially.  Costa Rica, El Salvador, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Taiwan, and Thailand have also embarked on this high-profit business.  In the United States, commercial butterfly dealers sell butterflies at P5,000 per dozen.
There are now about 350 butterfly breeders throughout the Philippines , according to the Laguna-based Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD).  This excludes the butterfly gardens, gene banks, and parks set up by government and private entities.
Butterflies comprise the true butterflies, skippers, and the moth-butterflies.  There are about 24,000 species of butterflies. Some migrate over long distances.  Some butterflies have evolved symbiotic and parasitic relationships with social insects such as ants. Butterflies range in size from a tiny 1/8 inch to a huge almost 12 inches. They are not color-blind; they can see red, green, and yellow.
Butterflies are important economically as pollinators for some species of plants although in general they do not carry as much pollen load.  They are, however, capable of moving pollen over greater distances.
Many butterflies, such as the Monarch butterfly, are migratory and capable of long distance flights. They migrate during the day and use the sun to orient themselves. They also perceive polarized light and use it for orientation when the sun is hidden.  The top butterfly flight speed is 12 miles per hour.
Culturally, butterflies are a popular motif in the visual and literary arts.   In some parts of the world, a butterfly signifies an omen.  Some people say that when a butterfly lands on you it means good luck. In the Philippines, a black butterfly lingering in the house is taken to mean that someone in the family has died or will soon die. The idiom “butterflies in the stomach” is used to describe a state of nervousness.
Butterflies are notable for their unusual life cycle with a larval caterpillar stage, an inactive pupae stage and a spectacular metamorphosis into a familiar and colorful winged adult form, and most species being day-flying they regularly attract attention.
Butterflies feed primarily on nectar from flowers. Some also derive nourishment from pollen, tree sap, rotting fruit, decaying flesh, and dissolved minerals in wet sand or dirt.  As adults, butterflies consume only liquids.  They feed on nectar from flowers and also sip water from damp patches. This they do for water, for energy from sugars in nectar and for sodium and other minerals which are vital for their reproduction.
Several species of butterflies need more sodium than provided by nectar. They are attracted to sodium in salt and they sometimes land on people, attracted by human sweat.
Another interesting fact about butterflies is that they sense the air for scents, wind and nectar using their antennae. The antennae come in various shapes and colors. The hesperids have a pointed angle or hook to the antennae, while most other families show knobbed antennae. A butterfly’s sense of taste is coordinated by chemoreceptors on the tarsi, which work only on contact, and are used to determine whether an egg-laying insect’s offspring will be able to feed on a leaf before eggs are laid on it
Butterflies are different from moths although some people may think they are the same.  Butterflies can be distinguished from moths in several ways: the antennae of butterflies are knobbed at the tips, while those of moths almost never have terminal knobs and are often feathery; the body of a butterfly is more slender and usually smoother than that of a moth; butterflies are active by day, while most moths are nocturnal; when at rest most butterflies hold the wings vertically, while most moths flatten them against the surface on which they are resting.
But there are also things in which butterflies and moths are alike.  Like moths, butterflies have coiled, sucking mouthparts and two pairs of wings that function as a single pair; the wings are covered with scales that come off as dust when the insects is handled.
“Butterfly farming is very viable,” asserted PCARRD.   Actually, butterfly farming is breeding butterflies in captivity. The livelihood focuses on the production of butterfly pupae, the stage between the larvae and the imago or adult, in which the insect is enclosed in a hardened case.  Butterfly farming is simple and can be done in the backyard.
Sustainable Livelihood Options for the Philippines, published by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), has come up with simple method on butterfly farming.  Here it is:
Stock collecting and breeding
Collect female and male adult butterflies using an insect net.  The male butterfly has a narrow pointed abdomen while the female butterfly has a stout and rounded abdomen.   Adult butterflies are everywhere.  The best time to collect them is during summer and when flowers are in bloom.
Just a thought: Secure permit to collect adult butterflies for breeding from the DENR’s line agency, the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, before the collection.  This way, you won’t have any legal problem which may arise later on.
Keep the pairs of butterflies in an improvised insectarium.  It is a net enclosure of 1.5 meters by 2.5 meters by 4 meters with live food plant inside where the butterfly breeders are reared.  Ensure the cleanliness of the insectarium at all times.
In the insectarium, the adult butterfly feeds on fresh flowers.  Supplement the food with a mixture of sugar and water placed in a basin.  Be sure to change the water in the bottle (where the food plants are placed) twice a day.
Wait until the butterflies lay eggs.  Laying of eggs may be hours, days or months after mating.  The egg is enclosed in a protective shell, more or less spherical and very small.  The eggs are deposited on the leaves of the food plants.
An adult butterfly lays an average of 70 eggs.  However, release from the insectarium the pair of butterfly after laying about 50 eggs to allow the butterfly to lay the remaining eggs in the natural habitat.
Larvae and pupae development
Collect the food plant with the eggs and put in a bottle with water.  Place the bottle with the food plant in a hatchery (an enclosed screened cabinet).  Put a basin with water at the bottom of the hatchery to prevent the ants from crawling in.
Wait for four days when the egg will hatch into larvae and feed on the foliage of the food plant.  Larvae vary considerably in shape and size depending on the species.  Larvae vision can detect differences between light and darkness and their tastes are acute.  Food discrimination is prominent and many larvae will rather starve than eat abnormal food plants.
Let the larvae develop into pupae after 16 days.  Like the larvae, pupae’s size, shape and color vary with species.
Pack 100 pupae in a box cushioned with cotton.  Sell these to a middleman with an export permit because there is no local market yet for pupae.  Pupae are exported mostly to the Australia , Canada , Denmark , Germany , Japan , Netherlands , Palau , Switzerland , Taiwan , United Kingdom , and United States .
Adult butterfly can also be raised from the eggs.  The pupae are not totally marketed; some are developed into adult butterflies.    The adult butterflies can be sold to people who want them for special events like birthdays and weddings.
“Butterfly farming is considered environment-friendly inasmuch as there is symbiotic relationship between the plants and the butterflies,” the DENR publication states.  “The former provides nectar for the butterfly while the latter’s activity hastens the pollination of the flowers.  There is no significant effect on the photosynthesis process.”