Urgent! Help needed regards feeding butterflies

This topic contains 7 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Jacqui 3 years, 6 months ago.

  • Creator
  • #40958


    I have been trying to hatch some European Swallowtail Butterfly cocoons. I had 4 and 3 have emerged so far. First 2 were with crinkled wings unfortunately and the third has had a successful wing growth. Now my problem is that these butterflies can’t seem to understand that they need to eat.

    The first one has died after numerous efforts and starving, the second is loosing alot of body fat while the third one has just emerged.

    I have offered their host plant; fennel, fennel flowers, different home grown flowers, fruits, sugar solution and nothing. I have placed the butterflies on all these foods. Their proboscis remained uncurled. I have tried to coax it myself by using a toothpick. But they get irritated, they don’t keep it uncurled and instantly curl it back up. When I hold it keeping the toothpick in the way, they keep attempting ti curl it back in. I don’t know what else to do and I don’t know what the problem is. I feel I have tried everything the internet has offered and still nothing.

    Please help!

Viewing 7 replies - 1 through 7 (of 7 total)
  • Author
  • #40972


    Neil says:

    Many swallowtails are reluctant feeders on artificial sugar water especially at first. Other groups seem fine. You have to force feed them otherwise they do just as you describe. I’d make up some 20% sugar solution or honey water and put it in plastic milk bottle top filling it to the rim. Then tease open the proboscis by gently scraping it against the rim of the bottle top till it is fully extended – when you see the tip move you know that it’s drinking. Hold it there for a couple of minutes and do that twice a day. If you try and let them continue drinking by themselves perched on the top they’ll be off in seconds. A less invasive way is to hold the butterfly horizontal and drop the sugar solution with a plastic pipette onto the curled proboscis and repeat 4 or 5 times when it’s taken it. Often you also can put adults onto a spray of fresh Buddleja and they will start feeding straight away. I generally feed them on their second day after emergence.
    Good luck!



    Hi LemonQuartz… I’ll try and find out some more information for you, and post it here. Also try and figure out why you couldn’t join the WWBBF, will sort that one out too.

    Another thought: when did these butterflies emerge? I know that Monarchs don’t naturally feed for the first 24 hours after they emerge from the chrysalis, so maybe it’s something similar and you’re worrying yourself unnecessarily. Anyway…

    Watch this space!





    I am based in Malta, and have purchased these pupae through an online seller.
    I tried finding some Europe based forums, but as I said when I signed up with butterfly boutique I didnt get any login information or any of that sort. The next forum I could find was this, so I tried my luck



    You are correct Jacqui! I just didn’t want to go into too much detail about pupae, cocoon. I was more interested in the actual question.
    I was wondering about where LemonQuartz was based but just in case it was in NZ did not want to question it, in case someone got in to trouble! Ha! Ha!



    You are right about the terms when it comes tot he stage after caterpillar. I ama ware of this but for the sake of acting quick I did not bother to correct myself. And the term isn’t important at this point. The importance is in saving these butterflies.

    I’ve tried signing up with that forum but for some reason I found it complicated as when I signed up they just sent me my own details and not were to proceed to the forum. I found it to be badly organized and couldn’t find my way around that site.

    I haven’t tried honey as I read on the internet that there is something wrong about it when feeding it to butterflies so I didn’t bother but I guess I will try.

    They are in a butterfly house with around 8 hours sunlight and they don’t do much, they bask mostly and the one I have now just sits in the sugar solution but doesn’t even drink it.

    Thank you both for your help!



    Hi Terry

    Not sure where LemonQuartz is but not in New Zealand as we don’t have this species here. But no worries! We love having you visit.

    You may be interested in the WWBBF where you’re bound to get more advice too about this species. The name WorldWide Butterfly Breeders Forum says it all. It’s free – sign up here:


    And regarding the point about cocoons – it’s my understanding that the third stage of any butterfly/moth as it goes through metamorphosis is the pupal stage, i.e. it forms a pupa, plural pupae. If the insect spins silk around itself then it’s called a “cocoon”, but if it sheds its last skin then this is a chrysalis. Least that’s what I have been telling schools and garden clubs for many years, so I do hope I’m not wrong!




    Hi There!

    The Swallowtails should feed on a nectar solution of honey and sugar dissolved in water. If they are housed in a Butterfly House where they can fly around they should automatically search out a nectar source, however if kept in a cage out of direct sunlight they may not do much, as this is a sun loving species. The reason for the crippled wings of the first 2 was because of lack of humidity. I always mist the pupae to prevent drying out.
    This article “as a PDF” will help you, as it was written by Brian Gardiner who specialised in papilio machaon and pieris brassicae.
    These Swallowtails are easy to hand pair for breeding purposes, if you can first get them fed and the humidity to their liking.


    One other point Butterflies make pupae, not Cocoons that are spun by mostly Moth species.

Viewing 7 replies - 1 through 7 (of 7 total)

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.