Rearing Lepidoptera

Rearing butterflies and moths is a very rewarding experience.  My primary purpose in rearing Lepidoptera is to personally observe and photograph their life cycle.  Even if it is simply photographing the emergence of an adult, watching it go from such a clumsy critter with tiny crumpled wings to a delicate fluttering butterfly or moth is amazing to watch.
My secondary purpose is to obtain specimens for educational presentations.  Rearing Lepidoptera ensures a fresh specimen, rather than wild-caught adults that are often missing scales or parts of their wings.  The livestock I purchase are for this purpose, partly because I cannot release them for reasons I will explain below, and partly because it allows me to obtain east-coast species not found here in the Pacific Northwest.  However, if the butterfly or moth is something I found locally and I already have enough specimens for my collection, I will release the adults back into the habitat where I found them.

Photos of some of the moths and butterflies I reared from purchased pupae
Releasing Reared Lepidoptera
Reared butterflies and moths should only be released if it is to the same location where they were originally found. Releasing purchased livestock can introduce a number of problems, primarily the introduction of disease and/or mixing of genes that might harm the local populations. There has also been numerous discussions about whether or not releasing Monarchs and Painted Ladies (migratory species) might introduce confusion as to where they should fly for the winter, in addition to the problems of disease and genetics. Rearing these two species from locally-caught individuals (such as a Monarch migration research project here in Washington) and then releasing them does not seem to cause any problems, with tagged individuals already being found in California. However, problems associated with releasing these two species from purchased livestock, such as for weddings and school projects, has not been sufficiently studied and is best to be avoided.

Purchasing Livestock and/or Specimens
I do not like to purchase already-dead specimens from organizations if I can help it, because it is difficult to trace where they came from and whether they were reared or wild-caught, and if either was done appropriately and legally.  Historically, some tropical butterfly species were nearly driven to extinction because of over-collecting for the purpose of selling specimens.  Currently, most tropical collecting is regulated, and specimens are usually from "butterfly farms" that reduce pressure on wild populations.  Incidentally, most, if not all, of the livestock purchased for butterfly houses, such as the one at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, are from butterfly farms in the tropics that provide jobs for the locals who have very few other options for a source of income.  These farms also often promote the conservation of wild butterflies.  However, I still prefer to play it safe and avoid purchasing specimens.
Generally I also avoid buying livestock, partly because of concerns for wild populations (over-collecting of wild individuals to sell, and possible disease introduction from rearing mass amounts of insects), and partly because I know I will have to kill the adults once they have emerged.  However, purchasing livestock gives me the opportunity to watch and photograph the adults emerging, and then I can spread and preserve the specimen as I wish, rather than having an already-dried specimen that I either leave as-is or have to re-hydrate (a difficult process in my experience) and spread differently.  One person I have found who is reliable and conducts good business is Bill Oehlke, who maintains this great website: World's Largest Saturniidae Site.  He is currently the only person I purchase livestock from, and all of the resulting adults are preserved for my collection and are used in my educational presentations, along with the cocoons and pupae they emerge from.  Children always respond with more interest to seeing the actual specimens rather than pictures, and they especially seem to like seeing what types of cocoons and pupae each moth or butterfly came from.
For my personal guidelines on collecting, see the Collecting Lepidoptera page.

I almost always have a few live bugs in my house, mostly from eggs or larvae I found over the Spring and Summer, and I am often required to overwinter them, usually in the pupal stage.  I always look forward to Spring with excitement and anticipation of my "babies" emerging.  Occasionally some do not make it through the winter, but then I will use the dead pupae in educational presentations, since they are easily dried and remain whole, rather than the fragile shell left when the adults emerge from it.  There are many reasons a butterfly or moth may die in the overwintering stage; some species are more sensitive than others, either to temperature or humidity, or a need for fluctuating temperatures rather than the more constant temperature they experience by being overwintered in my outdoor storage closet (similar to keeping them in a garage).  Some people overwinter Lepidoptera in a refrigerator, but the two or three times I tried that, I experienced nearly 50% mortality and so switched to keeping them outdoors in a place that does not freeze (such as my current storage closet).  I think the refrigerator got a little too cold and was too dry.

The following lists are of species I reared from eggs, larvae, or pupae, with the years they were reared and the general locations of where they came from.  Each species name is (or will be) hyperlinked to a blog post with photos and notes about it.

Species reared from eggs
Elegant Sheepmoth Hemileuca eglanterina - 2005 from Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, WA
Nevada buckmoth Hemileuca nevadensis -  purchased from Bill Oehlke in 2009, larvae emerged May 2010, adults emerged September 2010
Cerisyi's Sphinx Moth Smerinthus cerisyi - 2003 & 2004 from Kittitas County, WA (found adult female and reared two generations)
Northern Cloudywing Thorybes pylades - 2013 from Klickitat County, WA (larva is currently overwintering)

Species reared from larvae (found in the wild)
Milbert's Tortoiseshell Aglais milberti - 2008 and 2010 from Kittitas County, WA
Common Woodnymph Cercyonis pegala - 2007 from Thurston County, WA
Snowberry Checkerspot Euphydryas colon - 2005, 2009, 2010 from Kittitas County, WA
Arrowhead Blue Glaucopsyche piasus - 2008 (adults never emerged) from Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, WA
Silvery Blue Glaucopsyche lygdamus - 2013 (overwintering pupa, should emerge Spring 2014) from Klickitat County, WA
Elegant Sheepmoth Hemileuca eglanterina - 2008-2009 from Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, 2010-2011 from Manastash area in Kittitas County, WA
Lorquin's Admiral Limenitis lorquini (larva photos here) - 2013 from Deschutes River Canyon north of Maupin, OR
Mourning Cloak Nymphalis antiopa - 2013 from Klickitat River, Klickitat County, WA (also some in late 1990s)
California Tortoiseshell Nymphalis californica - 2007 and 2009 from Kittitas County, WA
Anise Swallowtail Papilio zelicaon - 2007 (Thurston Co., WA), 2011 (Clark Co., WA), and 2013 (Klickitat Co., WA)
Oregon Swallowtail Papilio machaon oregonius - 2005 from Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, WA
Mountain Parnassian Parnassius smintheus - 2006 from Chumstick Mountain, Chelan County, WA
Satyr Anglewing Polygonia satyrus - 2012 from Kittitas County, WA and 2013 from Sinlahekin Wildlife Area
Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta - 2009 from Amboy, Clark County, WA
Painted Lady Vanessa cardui - 2007 from Marion County, OR

Species reared from pupae (butterfly chrysalis, moth cocoon or bare pupa)
Luna Moth Actias luna - purchased from Bill Oehlke in 2004 and 2010, emerged following years
Polyphemus Moth Antherea polyphemus - purchased in 2010, emerged 2011
Io Moth Automeris io - purchased in 2004, emerged 2005
Tulip-tree Silkmoth Callosamia angulifera - purchased
Promethea Silkmoth Callosamia promethea - purchased in 2004 and 2006, emerged following years
Regal Moth (aka Royal Walnut Moth) Citheronia regalis - purchased in 2010, emerged 2011
Rosy Maple Moth Dryocampa rubicunda - purchased in 2012, emerged 2013
Cecropia Moth Hyalaphora cecropia - purchased in 2004 and 2010, emerged following years
Ceanothus Silkmoth Hyalaphora euryalis - purchased in 2010, emerged 2011
Columbia Silkmoth Hyalaphora columbia - purchased in 2004, emerged 2005
Pipevine Swallowtail Battus philenor - purchased in 2012, emerged 2013
Giant Swallowtail Papilio cresphontes - purchased in 2010, emerged 2011
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Papilio glaucus - purchased 2004, emerged 2005
Spicebush Swallowtail Papilio troilus - purchased in 2010, emerged 2011