Rescuing dying butterflies?

Recently my daughter came across what we thought was a dying butterfly. It was flopping around on the grass, unable to fly. We observed it for a while and figured it looked like a Common Grass Yellow butterfly, although there has been some debate when I uploaded my observation and @firos_ak posted some links as well.

After mostly staying still or flopping on its side, it hopped onto the edge of my shoe and hung on. Not wanting it to get eaten by predators, my daughter suggested we bring it home. So we did and the day passed in a flurry of activity trying to figure out how to make it comfortable. We placed it in our small indoor balcony garden and fed it sugar water soaked in sponge bits. Surprised to find it alive the next morning, we gathered up flowers and spread them around. It did not move much but did manage to hop on some of the flowers and then, to our dismay, somehow dropped/detached most of its left fore-wing. How/why would it do that when there was no handling or predator?

To cut a long story short, the butterfly lived for about 5 days mostly staying still or briefly flopping around the fresh flowers we gave it each morning, ruining its wings further. It hid behind a pot or hung behind a leaf or petal for the first couple of nights and we would suddenly spot it lying sideways in the morning. Later it pretty much stayed in one or two spots on some flowers or on the floor.

We never actually saw it unfold its proboscis to suck the sugar water though we kept soaking the sponge pieces diligently. Does anyone have any experience with this? What could we have done better? Was it a good idea to bring the butterfly home and was it really dying - given the short life span, I was surprised it lived for nearly 5 more days at home!

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it probably could have used a steady source of warmth, but honestly it was probably old, sick, or both.


I guess there is not much else you can do than providing a food source. Arthropods are usually rather sluggish before they die and don’t have much potential for recovery. If you find a butterfly in that condition then it’s probably already too late.


I agree. I raise butterflies for conservation and I notice that they tend to flop around and maybe have a seizure before passing.


No harm in keeping it alive. Hard to say what was wrong. I looked at your pictures, and the wings did not look particularly worn, but one antenna was bent and one missing the end. Perhaps it had a run in with a car. I’ve seen some of that behaviour with moths that have no heads - they remain alive, but don’t really do much. It’s always hard to know what goes on with arthropods.


As an fyi, your butterfly is most certainly not Eurema hecabe, or even Eurema sp. Catopsilia pomona looks like the correct ID. Note the latter genus is much larger than the former, and the wing apex is much more pointed. The lack of black spots peppered on the ventral wings also rule out Eurema.

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Welcome to the Forum!


You don’t say how old your daughter is or if she is especially interested in nature etc, but from a learning perspective, the reality is most insects have a life span that is measured in weeks at the most.

Once they start to reach the end of that period, nothing can usually be done to change the inevitable outcome. It may be a good teaching opportunity for your daughter about how some types of animals live longer etc.


Thanks for the explanation!

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Thanks. She is 8 and very interested in nature. That’s the reason I found and joined iNaturalist , so that we could look up the names of the creatures around us. She uses the Seek app. She put up the butterfly after it died along with the rest of her dead butterflies collection :)


Read up more and saw the other suggestions. Have changed the ID to Lemon Emigrant[Catopsilia pomona] which looks more appropriate to me now.

Have seen a couple more examples since, though still confusing am learning to tell them apart!


Welcome to the forum :smiley:

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Thank you!

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