How to Start a Butterfly Farm


If you’ve been thinking about how to make money farming, but don’t know how to start farming with no money, becoming a butterfly farmer warrants your consideration.

Butterfly farmers can start small, very small. Two of the leading butterfly farmers and experts in the field, Rick and Claudia Mikula of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, didn’t know how to start a farm when they started raising butterflies. They used two screen houses in their backyard.

Is it for you? Read on for a guide.

What You Will Need to Begin Butterfly Farming – Simple Steps

Learn Everything You Can About Butterfly Farming and Wild Butterflies

butterfly farming

Internet access makes it easy to start your education and you should join organizations that support the field. There are organizations such as the Association for Butterflies which offer online classes and webinars. On FB, check out the Association for Butterflies Conservation, Research, Farming and Gardening.

One of the most important facts you must research is which species you can raise and sell. The United States Department of Agriculture regulates this. For example, many species of butterflies may not be shipped over state lines in this country. Many species can not be caught in the wild.

Acquire a Suitable Area for the Butterfly Farm

Whether you start in your backyard or go big, you’ll need to raise caterpillars from the egg in an area or room with controlled temperature and humidity levels. Many farmers rehab an existing greenhouse or buy a greenhouse. You don’t need a lot of room or land to get started, but you do need to preserve the proper environment.

Enclosed Habitat

butterfly farming

The butterfly habitat must be enclosed, as protection against insect pests that thrive in Mother Nature, such as wasps and bees. These insects lay eggs either in or on a caterpillar, which will kill the caterpillar.

Growing Host Plants

Each species of butterfly has a specific host plant that caterpillars eat. In 99% of the species, the host plants and flowers that the adult butterfly uses for nectar and the host plant for that butterfly’s eggs are NOT the same species. Only the monarchs use the same host plants for both, which is milkweed.

The only butterfly caterpillars which feed on artificial food are the painted ladies. The painted ladies are also the species that has most often been approved to be shipped across state lines.

Most farmers choose to grow their own host plants, to make sure the food plant hasn’t been treated with an insecticide that would harm caterpillars. Also, you would save money by growing your own plants instead of buying them.

Adult butterflies are pollinators but may lay eggs on those same plants.

Start Planning Your Business

Once you’ve done the research you can start planning. The main season for raising butterflies runs from spring through fall. The life span of a butterfly is short, with most living for about a month.

Create a Butterfly Farm Business Plan

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As with every new business, you need a written plan. The business plan should include a mission statement, as well as projections for future growth and a description of the business structure and operations.

Do a Market survey

Before starting your butterfly farm, it is crucial to understand the market demand. If you plan to sell to other butterfly farmers, research which species they are most interested in.

If you are targeting the general public, determine which species are popular among them. Often, Monarchs and Tiger Swallowtails are preferred for releases of adult butterflies due to their bright colors.

Conducting a thorough market survey will help you decide which species to breed and can also inform your marketing and pricing strategies.

For releases of adult butterflies, often Monarchs and Tiger Swallowtails are preferred, for their bright colors.

Form a Legal Entity and Register Your Butterfly Business

Get the legal checklist finished by choosing a business structure, most likely a limited liability corporation or LLC. You must also register the business with your state.

Name and Brand Your Butterfly Business

One of the most important aspects of how to start a business is choosing a great name. Choose a name that describes the focus of your business.

Open a Business Bank Account

Opening a business bank account is essential for managing your finances and keeping your personal and business expenses separate. Additionally, get a business credit card to help you manage your expenses better and possibly earn rewards.

Having a business bank account and credit card will also help you establish business credit, which can be beneficial for obtaining loans or lines of credit in the future.

Shipping

Shipping throughout the country will require USDA permits. Only certain species may be shipped across state lines. Containers vary according to the life cycle stage that’s being shipped and must be insulated.

Acquire The Equipment Needed for a Butterfly Farm

Get as many of the supplies as you can at garage sales to save money. For example, you may be able to save by acquiring supplies such as containers and shelving second-hand.

You’ll also need disinfectant, breeding cages, netting, insulated shipping boxes, lights and startup stock.

Purchase Eggs and Raise Caterpillars

You can purchase from existing farmers who are listed with the AFB.

Focus on Disease Prevention

Best management practices for disease prevention are installing netting over host plants, providing good ventilation and climate management (never too cool), and rinsing plant cuttings before providing them as food. It’s a good idea to feed using cuttings, instead of moving a potted plant into the raising area. The earth or soils could contain bacteria.

Raise Butterflies

Once the caterpillar has formed a chrysalis or pupa, there will be about 28 days before the butterfly emerges. It’s another 24-48 hours before the wings are dry and it can fly.

Marketing

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Join your local Chamber of Commerce and network. You’ll have tons of ideas on where to sell, such as business openings and special events.

Make Money By Selling Butterflies or Eggs

You can set prices based on what’s current in the industry. Besides selling butterflies or eggs, you can also sell caterpillars, pupae, or butterfly-friendly plants. This will attract a wider audience, like schools, nature centers, and butterfly enthusiasts.

Run Education Tours Focusing on Conservation Efforts

butterfly farming

Once you are established, you may want to reach out to schools and conservation groups to promote butterfly raising, as well as ways people can enhance butterfly habitats.

Develop a Butterfly Breeding Strategy

Developing a sound butterfly breeding strategy is crucial for maintaining a healthy butterfly population. This involves selecting appropriate species, ensuring genetic diversity, and creating optimal breeding conditions.

It’s important to understand the breeding cycles and habitat needs of each species to maximize their survival rates. Additionally, pairing butterflies strategically for breeding can help maintain a strong, diverse population that is resilient to diseases and environmental changes.

Establish a Sales and Marketing Plan

Establishing a sales and marketing plan is vital for the success of your butterfly farm. Identify your target markets, such as local garden centers, schools for educational programs, or event planners for butterfly release events. Develop marketing materials and leverage online platforms to promote your farm.

Attend local trade shows and gardening events to showcase your products and services. Building a strong online presence through a website and social media can also attract customers from a wider geographic area.

Implement Record-Keeping and Monitoring

Effective record-keeping and monitoring systems are essential for tracking the growth, health, and breeding success of your butterflies. This includes maintaining records of breeding pairs, egg laying, caterpillar development, and adult butterfly health.

Monitoring also helps in identifying any issues early, such as diseases or environmental stressors, allowing for timely intervention. Utilize software or simple spreadsheets to keep detailed records for effective management of your butterfly population.

Explore Additional Revenue Avenues

Beyond selling butterflies and related products, explore additional revenue streams to diversify your income. Consider offering guided tours of your farm, hosting educational workshops, or renting out your space for special events.

Collaborating with local artists or photographers for unique projects featuring your butterflies can also open new revenue channels. Additionally, consider selling butterfly-themed merchandise or collaborating with local nurseries to supply butterfly-friendly plants.

Stay Updated with Industry Trends

Staying informed about industry trends and advancements in butterfly farming is important for the long-term success of your business. Join professional organizations, subscribe to industry publications, and attend conferences and workshops.

This will help you stay updated with the latest research, breeding techniques, and conservation efforts. Networking with other butterfly farmers can also provide valuable insights and potential collaboration opportunities.

Things to Consider Before Starting a Butterfly Farm

From Spring through Fall, there are no days off. It’s not the type of business where you can hire just anyone to check on things. Disease prevention, temperature, and humidity – are all things that need expert oversight.

If starting a butterfly business isn’t for you, there are other options to consider. For example, you could start a bee farm, cricket farm, or even learn how to start a worm farm. Some entrepreneurs may even raise multiple types of insects at once.

Here are the differences and similarities:

CriteriaButterfly FarmBee FarmCricket FarmWorm Farm
Days OffNo days off from Spring through FallSeasonal, but requires regular checkingRequires daily oversightRegular checking needed
Expert OversightRequires expertise in disease prevention, temperature, and humidity controlRequires expertise in beekeeping and disease preventionRequires expertise in cricket rearing and disease preventionRequires expertise in worm rearing
Maintenance LevelHigh - monitoring of temperature, humidity, disease prevention, and breedingMedium to High - monitoring of bee health, disease prevention, and honey productionMedium - monitoring of cricket health, breeding, and feedingLow to Medium - monitoring of worm health and breeding
ProductsButterflies, eggs, caterpillars, pupae, plants, educational toursHoney, beeswax, bee pollen, propolis, educational toursCrickets for pet food, human consumption, and baitWorms for composting, fishing bait, and pet food
Ecological ImpactPositive - conservation of butterfly species, pollinationPositive - pollination, honeybee conservationNeutral to Positive - alternative protein source, less environmental impact than traditional livestockPositive - soil aeration, waste recycling
Revenue StreamsMultiple - sale of butterflies, eggs, caterpillars, pupae, plants, educational toursMultiple - sale of honey, beeswax, bee pollen, propolis, educational toursMultiple - sale of crickets, cricket-based products, educational toursMultiple - sale of worms, compost, educational tours
Therapeutic ValueHigh - butterfly watching is known to reduce stress and promote mental well-beingMedium - beekeeping is known to be therapeutic for some peopleLow - cricket farming is not typically associated with therapeutic benefitsLow - worm farming is not typically associated with therapeutic benefits

Why You Should Start a Butterfly Farm

Starting a butterfly farm can be a rewarding and fulfilling venture, both personally and financially. Not only does it contribute to the conservation of butterfly species, but it also offers various business opportunities. Here are some reasons why you should consider starting a butterfly farm:

  • Contribute to Conservation: Many butterfly species are facing the threat of extinction due to habitat loss and climate change. Starting a butterfly farm contributes to the conservation of these beautiful creatures by providing a controlled environment for their breeding and growth.
  • Educational Opportunities: Butterflies play a crucial role in our ecosystem as pollinators. A butterfly farm can serve as an educational center, teaching people about the importance of butterflies and their role in the environment.
  • Multiple Revenue Streams: Apart from selling butterflies, eggs, caterpillars, and pupae, you can also offer educational tours, workshops, and sell butterfly-related products like butterfly-friendly plants and butterfly kits.
  • Promote Eco-Tourism: Butterfly farms attract nature enthusiasts, photographers, and tourists, promoting eco-tourism in your area. This not only helps your business but also contributes to the local economy.

Is Butterfly Farming Profitable?

Yes, although that depends on the starting costs and the type of business.

A butterfly farm can be a destination business that people visit. Visitors pay a fee to enter the facility. The first established tourism business in the US was Butterfly World, Coconut Creek, Florida, which opened in 1988.

Or a butterfly farmer can raise butterflies and sell butterflies. Butterfly sales can be to a butterfly tourism and conservation business, or to the general public. The Mikula’s pioneered the sale of adult butterflies to be released on an occasion, such as a wedding, funeral, or graduation.

A business that sells butterflies can earn $100,000 a year.

What Do Butterfly Farmers Do?

It is fun to raise butterflies and the whole family can be involved. Even with the entire family pitching in, it is very hard work.

The areas that house butterflies, in all life stages, need to be cleaned and the butterflies must be fed. For example, caterpillars continually shed their outer skin as they grow, which is cast off and dropped to the bottom of their pen.

In addition to feeding and cleaning, as butterflies are raised the farmer must be on guard against wild predators (including insects such as wasps and bees), parasites, and funguses.

Butterfly Farm

How Do Butterfly Farms Make Money?

Adult butterflies lay eggs on specific plants. The eggs hatch into caterpillars which feed on the plants. The caterpillars eventually become pupa, or chrysalis, which will hatch in the butterfly.

The butterfly farmer can sell eggs, caterpillars, pupa,s or adults.

A butterfly zoo can make money by charging admission, as well as providing information programs about butterfly conservation and habitat restoration.

The Bottom Line

Two caterpillars were crawling across a field when a butterfly flew by overhead. One caterpillar said to the other, “You’ll never get me up in one of those.”

You may never have considered butterfly farming as a viable business venture, but it is. In addition to making money, the business has a rewarding end product which is beautiful.

Image: Envato Elements


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Lisa Price Lisa Price is a staff writer for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 4 years. She has a B.A. in English with a minor in journalism from Shippensburg State College (Pennsylvania). She is also a freelance writer and previously worked as a newspaper circulation district manager and radio station commercial writer. In 2019, Lisa received the (Pennsylvania) Keystone Award.

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