Thirty-nine years ago, Rick Mikula and his wife were just out photographing birds. During their nature exploration, Mikula’s wife came across a butterfly and decided to create a makeshift piece of equipment to catch it. After a few tries, the Mikulas were able to catch it, and upon inspection, they noticed the butterfly had a silver question mark on it.
With Rick’s love for nature and his background in marine biology, he wanted to identify what type of butterfly it was. Mikula bought a book. In it, he noticed there were many different types of butterflies, and he set out to to see how many he could find. Thus, the beginning of a long career where Mikula would be known as Butterfly Rick, had started.
“I’m from northeastern Pennsylvania so I’ve spent a lot of time in the Pocono Mountains,” said Mikula. “I love nature, and while I was trying to find as many different butterflies that I could, I met someone who told me that I could actually raise butterflies. I’ve been doing it ever since. Thirty-nine years.
“The most important thing about raising butterflies is to find a host plant for the caterpillars,” Mikula continued. “What I do is find a female and put it in a cage. I let her lay eggs, and then I release it back into nature. I take care of caterpillars, which sounds nice and easy, but once you get into it you find out that it’s much harder than it seems.”
According to Mikula, raising butterflies comes with a lot of unexpected issues. For example, nine out of 10 caterpillars do not become butterflies because of natural parasites and predators. The natural checks and balances that happen in the wild also find their way into affecting butterflies that are being raised.
“It took me until about my second year to get a hand on how to raise butterflies and how to protect them from parasites and predators,” said Mikula. “I actually got tied up with these farmers that used to grow milkweed for World War II. They taught me a lot of tricks, and then I started creating my own techniques using recyclable items in my house like deli containers or two-liter bottles.”
After taking a few years to perfect the craft of raising butterflies, Butterfly Rick began traveling to teach seminars on how to become professional breeders. This led Mikula to many professional seminars, school districts from as north as Connecticut to as south as Virginia, and even libraries such as Cinnaminson’s.
“I got a letter from a young lady recently and she told me that I spoke to her when she was in third grade, and because of my presentation she started collecting butterflies,” said Mikula. “Also one time when I visited a school, a teacher came up to me and said that I spoke to his third-grade class as well. He said he made his parents get all of the stuff to do it and now he does it with his kids, He told me that my presentation inspired him to be a teacher.
“I have traveled to a lot of schools over the last 26 years,” said Mikula. “I’m usually speaking about six days a week, and I think this month I may have had five days off. Starting in September, however, I’ll be doing after-school programs at five different schools. We’ll be tagging and releasing the butterflies to study their migration all winter. Hopefully, they’ll be recovered in Mexico.”
According to Mikula, the population of butterflies has increased by 144 percent in the last five years. By more people taking up the craft to raise butterflies and then release them into the wild, the number of butterflies has increased substantially.
Those interested in learning more about how to become a professional breeder can go to the International Butterfly Breeders Association website or the Association of Butterflies. To find out more information about Rick Mikula: The Butterfly Guy, go to his website at Butterflyrick.com.