Making Money with Butterflies

A close-up of a monarch butterfly

Gregory Adams / Getty Images

Money can be made raising and selling butterflies, but it is difficult and time-consuming work and claims of people earning six figures doing it are the exceptions and not the rule.

However, you don’t have to be an entomologist or a wildlife biologist to begin a butterfly production business. Beekeepers or others with previous insect experience may find that beneficial, especially if they have experience making money at it.

Startup Necessities

Space is perhaps the most important thing anyone needs to have if they want to start a business as a butterfly farmer. Separate enclosed areas are needed for raising caterpillars, breeding, and holding butterflies ready for sale. Each of these areas have different needs in terms of temperature and other environmental factors.

Ideally, a butterfly farmer should have more than an acre of open space for growing milkweed, which butterflies need. The alternative is buying it from another farmer, which is more expensive. Greenhouses, screenhouses, or both also are beneficial for growing plants and flowers and for creating an optimum environment where butterflies can thrive and breed.

Many supplies require cold storage, so it's a good idea to have a dedicated refrigerator for the business.

Next to space, time is the next most important necessity. Butterflies need feeding and attention on a daily basis, so there needs to be a knowledgeable professional available every day to handle these duties. Unless you plan on never taking any vacations, this means you need to hire and train staff.

Finally, if you wish to transport butterflies over state lines, you'll need to apply for a permit with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There are limits on which species can be transported.

Revenue Sources

Once you have everything in place and up and running, there are multiple opportunities for selling your butterflies:

  • Special event releases: Providing butterflies for release at weddings, funerals, graduations, birthday parties, and other important events has become a common source of revenue for commercial breeders. Weddings represent a large share of this niche market since butterfly releases have grown in popularity and replaced the tossing of rice at many celebrations. Another growing trend is releasing butterflies at community events, such as fundraisers.
  • Exhibits: Zoos, museums, and nature centers purchase butterflies in various stages of development for display in their exhibits. The collections at these institutions need constant replenishment, so clients in this market often represent a steady source of income.
  • Schools: Primary, secondary, and post-secondary institutions commonly use butterflies as educational tools in science classes. They may purchase eggs, caterpillars, chrysalides, mature butterflies, or a combination of all these life cycles for classroom purposes. Colleges and universities also require butterflies for use in research studies.
  • Butterfly-raising kits: People love to see butterflies go through their life cycles, so butterfly raising kits are extremely popular as gift items for enthusiasts. Butterfly kits appeal to a wide audience, from small children to adults, so there always will be a market for this type of product. It is commonly stocked in the “gift shop” area of commercial butterfly farms.
  • Jewelry: Many artisans make earrings or pendants that incorporate preserved butterfly wings as a part of the design. A quick search on Etsy or Pinterest can yield hundreds of design possibilities. Prices depend on the skill of the artist and the quality of the product’s materials, but artists of all levels need preserved butterfly wings.
  • Preserved specimens: Preserved specimens can be sold to collectors, educators, and artists. Butterflies have a relatively short life cycle, so the preserved specimen market is a way to draw a final profit from insects that have expired due to natural circumstances.
  • Population restocking: Reselling to other commercial farmers or hobbyists is another way to profit from a butterfly business. Those who need to restock their populations may purchase insects in a variety of life cycle stages (including eggs, caterpillars, chrysalides, or mature butterflies). New farmers or hobbyists might need to purchase a significant number of insects if they are starting from scratch.
  • Tours and educational events: Tours and educational events at a butterfly breeding facility can be a steady source of revenue. School groups are always looking for new ideas for educational field trips. Tourists may want to visit to take pictures. New hobbyists may want to take classes to learn the ropes of butterfly production. Students might want to participate in internships to further their studies in a wildlife-related or entomology-related degree path. The owner of a butterfly facility also could consider traveling to host seminars in other areas upon request.