Butterfly breeding farms typically aim to contribute to the conservation of endangered species, such as the Apollo butterfly. These farms often involve the careful cultivation of host plants, creating suitable habitats for the butterflies and implementing controlled breeding programs.
Four breeding farms are currently in operation as part of the LIFE Apollo2020 project. Two of them: in Poland (Jagniątków, Sudetes) and in Austria (Saalfelden, Alps) were already operational before the project started. The other two have been established as part of the project’s activities: the farm in Poland (Uniemyśl, Sudetes), and in Czechia (Barchov, Sudetes). As part of the project, it is also planned to run a second breeding farm in Czechia in the White Carpathians.
Breeding success in butterfly farms can be influenced by various factors, including environmental conditions. Cold weather in spring can pose a challenge to the breeding process, as it may affect the development of butterfly eggs, larvae, and pupae. Butterflies are ectothermic, meaning their body temperature is regulated by external conditions. Extreme cold can slow down their metabolic processes and developmental stages, leading to reduced breeding success. On the other hand, excessively high temperatures in the breeding season can lead to increased mortality.
In the new breeding tents, the location had to be tested and solutions relating to sunlight and thermals had to be adapted. However, even in breeding farms that have been in operation for many years, there are still situations that can come as a surprise. The climate is changing, and even in cooler mountainous regions, extremely high temperatures can occur. This past spring, however, surprised us in a different way in the Sudetes. It was rainy, cool, and there were few sunny days.
In some farms, we encountered unexpected problems related to egg and caterpillar mortality, as well as the transitional phase occurring between developmental stages and the mating process of butterflies. Certain issues were attributed to the weather conditions, particularly the excessively rainy and overcast conditions during spring and early summer. This was particularly evident in the breeding site of Uniemyśl in the Sudetes, where the phenology at all stages of the insects’ lives was delayed compared to other breeding farms.
Some of these problems, however, make us reflect on our breeding methods and will force us to make some modifications and adjustments to the breeders themselves as well as the breeding tents. Failures are a natural part of any process. They prompt us to make improvements and to create variants to deal with negative changes in external conditions. To mitigate the impact of weather, butterfly farms may implement measures such as providing sheltered environments, temperature control, and adjusting breeding schedules based on weather forecasts. Additionally, ongoing research and collaboration with experts in entomology and environmental science can contribute to better understanding and addressing the challenges faced by butterfly breeding programs.
To enhance our understanding of the breeding process and the breeding materials used, population genetic studies are conducted on the deceased specimens collected from breeding activities in Poland. Furthermore, investigations are carried out to assess the presence of diseases and parasites. Both low genetic diversity and disease factors can be the cause of a decline in breeding performance, and we need to clarify and find solutions to these issues as well. The presence of several breeders in different parts of Europe allows us to collect a lot of data on what can go wrong while securing breeding material and the possibility of exchange between breeders.
Thanks to our collaboration with breeders, last year we successfully released a total of 1240 individuals at reintroduction sites across 11 different locations in the Polish and Czech regions of the Sudetes and the Austrian Alps.
Author: Anna Bator-Kocoł