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Can You Keep a Butterfly As a Pet?

Written By Stephen Vickers


Can You Keep a Butterfly as a Pet

Keeping any pet means that you must be responsible for them by keeping them healthy and happy. Of course, keeping an insect as a pet will require less of your time in comparison to caring for a mammal. So, can you keep a butterfly as a pet?

Yes, you can keep a butterfly as a pet providing, of course, that you care for it in the right way. It’s not a case of putting a butterfly in a glass jar and calling it your pet. You should also release it to allow it to mate.

Considering the sole purpose of an adult butterflies’ life is to mate, then keeping the adult butterflies as pets is probably not a good idea.

Another potential problem with keeping adult butterflies is their tendency to shed small scales on their wings. These can cause allergies for some people

Are Butterflies a Good Pet?

Keeping butterflies as pets in the first three stages of their lives can be very rewarding. That is, provided you are willing to take care of them properly.

Imagine observing your pet butterfly as it goes through the stage of metamorphosis.

Knowing that the embryo is developing in a tiny egg is fascinating. Then observing the tiny larvae emerging from the egg and growing until it becomes a pupa. The final stage is when it breaks free from its cocoon and turns into a beautiful butterfly. 

You may even feel parental pride in helping to rear a successful life. By getting your pet butterfly in the egg stage, you will get to observe the entire 4 stages of metamorphosis, a gift from nature itself.

You can buy the eggs commercially or go out and find them in your garden. Always use a fine paintbrush to handle the eggs rather than your fingers. That way, you won’t risk damaging them as they are very small and fragile. 

Delicate White Butterfly Egg

To house your pet butterfly, you could use something transparent as a home, such as a fish tank. Place a thin layer of topsoil or compost at the bottom, and then place some healthy roots and leaves that will compliment your chosen species.

Also, add a few twigs for the crawling caterpillar stage. Put a lid of fine mesh wire on the top, but watch out that any larvae don’t climb out of it once they’re on the move. 

Once the eggs have hatched, keep their food topped up and fresh. Soon, you will see tiny empty body casings as your larvae (caterpillar) outgrow their old ones. When this happens, you know that you are feeding them well. 

The final metamorphosis will be the most spectacular as a butterfly emerges. However, it might be the hardest too, as you should release it to let it fly and find a mate.

You can only release them into the wild if it’s a species local to your area, otherwise, they will perish.

How Long Can You Keep Butterflies?

Once a butterfly has become an adult, it will only last for a few weeks if you’re lucky. This is why they may not make for the best pets.

Should You Release Butterflies?

Yes, a butterfly has one purpose, and that is to find a mate. Keeping it locked up will prevent this from happening. You can keep a caterpillar as a pet but once it hatches you should release it.

What are the Best Butterflies to Keep as Pets? 

Because adult butterflies need lots of space to fly around, it’s a good idea only to keep local species as pets. That way, when you release it as you should, the butterfly can seek out a mate. 

In the UK, you could choose nettle eaters because these weeds are abundant. Here are a couple of local British species:

The Peacock, Genus Aglais eggs will hatch within two weeks of being laid.

The larvae tend to live together for a while, and don’t practice cannibalistic behaviour. They pupate after around a month, and the final metamorphosis will occur a couple of weeks later.

The adult is capable of hibernating and can live up to a year. 

Peacock Butterfly

The small Tortoiseshell, Genus Aglais eggs will hatch after around 10 days. The larvae will crawl to the top of the plants and live with their siblings in a silk web.

The time span of all the stages is much the same as the Peacock butterfly. 

Tortoiseshell Butterfly

There are also the common early Browns. They may not be as eye-catching as some species, but with around 57 species to choose from, there should be plenty of local butterflies. 

If you wish to keep the adult butterfly, for instance, if you want to breed them, then you will need a sizeable net-covered cage. Or you could use a spare room in the house if you have one – that is likely to be excessive, though!

An alternative to this is to consider getting a greenhouse or polytunnel to house them. 

Whichever method you choose, research the temperature, light, and food each species depends on.

If you put your time and effort into such a project, you want them to survive. The immense satisfaction of rearing butterflies is that you are helping a struggling insect survive on our ever-changing planet.

Is It Legal?

Keeping a butterfly as a pet is perfectly legal in most countries. It is always worth checking of course. However, you do need to consider whether it is moral to keep them as pets.


Yes, you can keep a butterfly as a pet, but it’s better to start them off as eggs. This way, you can watch the eggs become caterpillars and then butterflies. Once they have become butterflies, it’s a good idea to release them into the wild to allow them to find a mate.  

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