Butterfly projects are fun and educational. You can get started one of two ways: raising your own from a kit or ordering newborn monarch butterflies through the mail. Either way, you need to feed them in order for them to thrive.
Ordering Live Newborn Butterflies
If you have just received a box of newborn butterflies in anticipation of releasing them for an important event, you'll receive a set of instructions on how to get your butterflies off to the best start. But if you're still in the phase where you are considering purchasing live butterflies and wondering what's involved, here's what you can expect: Your butterflies will arrive folded flat within special paper. Carefully remove the butterflies, gently holding the tips of the wings. Have a plastic bottle cap or tissue ready, as well as a long straight or hat pin.
Perch the butterfly on your finger. Using a pin, gently unroll the proboscis and direct it toward the liquid. Your butterfly will begin to drink and absorb the energy he needs to live. If you are making nectar for newly hatched butterflies from a kit or those you've received through the mail, you'll need some table sugar and water. Mix 1 part sugar to 4 parts warm water. Allow the sugar to fully dissolve. Saturate a tissue or paper towel with the solution and gently place your butterfly on the towel. If the butterfly doesn't automatically extend his proboscis, help him do so by gently unfurling it with a pin. Once the butterfly has had his fill, place him in a saucer with a few drops of water so he can rinse the sugar off his legs.
Fruit is an easy source of vitamins, sugar and nutrients; many fruits are close in constitution to the natural food butterflies usually eat. If you have your butterflies in a netted habitat, simply place a piece of juicy sliced fruit such as a nectarine, watermelon, orange, peach or tangerine on the floor of the habitat. Newly hatched monarchs will find the fruit on their own and, when their wings are fully dry and they are ready to fly, will drop down toward the fruit and extend their proboscises into the fruit to drink the nectar.
Canned fruit nectar offers everything the newborn butterfly needs to develop further. Use the canned nectar in place of sugar water and either place it in a plastic bottle cap or saturate a tissue with it. Or provide nectar-bearing flowers, especially milkweed -- the monarch's food of choice. Your monarch butterflies should stay in their protected habitat for about a day, then released as long as the weather is warm enough -- they cannot tolerate frost. The monarch butterfly is one of several butterfly species that does not have to hibernate through the winter; the optimum time to release them is when their flowers are in bloom. To release in the winter, outside low temperatures should be at least 32 degrees Fahrenheit. If it's too cold for plant growth, the butterflies will not find nectar in the wild and they will not survive.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.