In Britain we have 11 butterflies known as 'Browns', they are all members of the family 'Satyridae' and are divided between 7 genera. Most of them are relatively common, they all feed on grasses as larvae and all have their pupae hanging down, or free on the ground. Here I am going to talk about 3 of them; the 'Speckled Wood' (Parage aegeria) which is easy and fun to raise, the 'Wall' (Lasiomata megera) which is probably not much harder once you have caught a female, and the 'Ringlet' (Aphantopus hyperantus)which is slightly harder because it takes a whole year for one generation and because it over-winters as a larvae. Whichever ones you decide to rear you will need both food plants and a cage. The food plants should be alive and growing in pots, and should be a grass 'Cocksfoot' (Dactylis glomerata) makes an excellent food plant for all 3 species, though you can use nearly any other grass, I have known people raise both the Wall and the Speckled Wood on young Maize plants and on ordinary lawn grass that has been potted up and left to grow, it needs to be at least 15 cms high. The best sort of cage is one about 40 cm high by 50 cm by 30 cm, it should have a solid wooden floor and mesh sides and top. You will have to feed your Butterflies an artificial nectar, a 10% mixture of honey in water will do. You can give this to the Butterflies by soaking a piece of cotton wool in it and placing it on the top of the mesh, or in the cut off base of a yogurt pot, providing it is in a sunny part of the cage. As this dries out do not just rewet it because the water dries out and the honey doesn't thus it will get more and more concentrated becoming harder for the butterflies to sip and likely to cause digestive problems, it is best to replace it at least everyday.
The Speckled Wood (Parage aegeria). As its name implies is a Butterfly of woodland edges and can most easily be found on paths that run along the edge of a wood or by walking down rides and bridle ways through woods. The female is slightly larger and has larger spots than the male, however telling them apart in the field is not easy for the beginner and you would probably do as well as to catch half a dozen and then set free those that are obviously not laying eggs, you probably do not want to raise more than a dozen or so at a time anyway. The Speckled Wood is unique among British butterflies in that it can over-winter as either a pupae or a larvae, those that overwinter as pupae emerge in March and those that over-winter as a larvae feed first then pupate and emerge in late April May, as there are normally at least two broods a year this staggering of life cycles means you can find adults from March till September even though they only live for two to three weeks. Females will lay eggs about one week after emergence.
The eggs are laid singly on the grass stem or blade, they take about a week to hatch and are white with a black head at first but soon turn green and are very hard to see on the grass, look for the small crescents in the grass blades that will tell you where they have been feeding. After about 4 - 5 weeks they will pupate low down in the grass tussock, the pupae is green at first but becomes a rusty colour after 10 days, the new butterflies should emerge in a further 3 -4 weeks. The cage should be kept in the sunshine.
The Wall (Lasiomata megera) The life cycle of the Wall is very similar to the Speckled wood except that they only as a larvae, the larvae are nocturnal (hence they only feed at night) and the adults prefer slightly sunnier places, and are often found near the coast, I have often had males fly up and along the path before as I walk along coastal footpaths that have hedgerows alongside.
The eggs are laid singly on the grass stem or blade, they take about 10 days to hatch, they feed on the same grasses as the Speckled Wood and the instructions for starting a culture are the same. The larvae take about 35 days to reach maturity and then pupate low down in the grass tussock. The pupae take about two weeks before emergence. In the wild there are normally two, sometimes three generations a year, the first pupate in the early spring (from the first week in April to early May) and the eggs are laid in late spring (mid May to June) the second normally emerge in late July or early August. The cage should be kept in the sunshine.
The Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperanthus) Prefers damper and shadier places to either of the above two, and is as likely to be found flying in the dappled shadows of fairly open Woods as along the edges. Though it feeds on the same grasses as the above two it is probably best two raise them separately because of the longer (one generation a year) lifecycle.
The best way to start a culture is again to catch some females and let the lay in the cage, the adults are on the wing in June and July and they live four 4 -5 weeks. The females will not stick their eggs to the grass as do the other two species but instead just drop them as they are flying about, some will land in your pots of grass but others will land on the floor of the cage and you will have to pick these up gently and drop them gently into the grass pots. They will hatch 20 days later, and grow slowly, they over-winter as larvae and will feed all through the winter on warmer sunnier days. The cage needs to be kept in a shady but light spot, again unlike the above two and during the winter you will need to put the cage in a frost free but light environment like a cool green house, but do remember to put it outside again in the spring. They will pupate in late April to May.
It is a good idea to release the Butterflies close to where you found their parents.
For more about Butterflies see the main Butterfly Page.
Breeding butterflies and Moths, by Ekkehard Friedrich