Papillon | May 27 2022
For more than 20 years, the native of Bern has been breeding the most common insect of all. Under his watch, not only are they 40 times more likely to survive, they might even become movie stars.
A female swallowtail is being run by Papa Papillon.Photos: Gina Crockle
A little worried, she stumbled upon the gray cloth with her long black legs, turned in all directions and fluttered her wings slightly. Then she stops, seemingly satisfied with this first new place she has been allowed to explore since leaving the house where she was born. She stands with wings spread wide and ready to take off, flanking her face with a pair of her front legs.
She is a female swallowtail. The gray fabric belongs to the shirt of Marc de Roches from Bern, known as “Papa Papillon”. He raised her since she was a small butterfly egg and now he’s allowed to fly. Like this swallowtail female, the Papillon has raised thousands, if not tens of thousands, of butterflies.
Bernese Marc de Roches, better known as Papa Papillon, has been breeding butterflies for over 20 years.
From the computer to the irium
Papillon came to breed butterflies more or less by chance. As a journalist and IT business owner, he was more interested in digitization than in nature at the turn of the millennium. But when he found some black caterpillars on a picnic near the edge of a forest, he took them home with him. “We always had stinging nettles in our garden and I’ve known that many caterpillars use this plant as food.” But when he went to check on them the next day, the larvae were gone.
“I was so pissed off and looked for answers on the butterfly forums on the internet,” says Papa Papillon. He found them within a few hours: according to a breeder from Israel, stinging nettles were too close to the road and therefore covered with diesel particles. “The caterpillars burn their mouths at him.” So he released the next set of caterpillars he collected on the stinging nettles behind his house and a little later there were the first 60 peacock butterflies.
Unfortunately, he lost a swallowtail on his first outing out of the aerospace. Papa Papillon is pleased to help you a little.
Excited by their breeding success, Papa Papillon built a small breeding facility in his garden. But since he did not have enough time due to his work, he allowed the children of the neighborhood to feed the fry. “Kids tell their friends, they tell their friends, and at one time there was a teacher with a whole classroom in my garden.” That’s why he decided to outsource his breeding facility and built it on Gurten in 2001. He’s been on the local Bernese mountain for nearly ten years – winning environmental awards and even giving up his IT job due to his success – before looking for a community garden Closer to his home to his breeding facility.
The Papa Papillon has been breeding butterflies for over 20 years and is now considered a superstar in the field and is also known off the scene as a colorful butterfly…a butterfly. He writes breeding instructions and gives lectures on butterflies and their breeding or makes his favorites available for weddings, opera openings, advertising, and filming. “If you see a butterfly in Switzerland or Europe on film or television, 90 percent of it comes from me.”
Getting butterflies to fly and settle when driving seems to be as difficult as one might imagine. “Training butterflies is almost impossible, they basically do what they want,” Papa Papillon says. That’s why this part of the job requires a lot of patience. “I always go to a photo session with a few dozen butterflies and let them fly until one does exactly what the director wants.”
Since it is already relatively warm, adult butterflies are very nervous and cannot wait to fly out to find a mate in another group.
Challenge Two: Inquiries rarely adhere to the life cycles of butterflies. “Sometimes I don’t have anything because the order comes in the middle of winter.” In these cases, he leaves tropical butterflies flying – albeit reluctantly. “Many tropical butterflies are bigger, prettier and more colorful. But our locals are under threat, so I want to focus my time and energy on them.”
Not an easy life
According to the Federal Office for the Environment, there are about 3,700 species of butterflies in Switzerland. According to Papa Papillon, about 70 percent of them are at risk. Not surprisingly, the main culprit is people. On the one hand, there is climate change, which is pushing butterflies from their traditional habitats into other climate zones. At the same time, we’re stealing the butterflies’ food base through shifting farming and concrete habits.
“In the past, the female swallowtail would fly from one garden to another, and almost every garden would find a few carrots to lay their eggs on.” Today, the nearest islands are often miles away. “If we do nothing, some native species will migrate or become extinct within a few years.”
Sweet fennel is one of the favorite plants of the swallowtail and some other species of butterflies, which is why Papillon grows it so widely in its part of the garden.
But nature doesn’t make it easy for butterflies either. Larvae are very low in the food chain and count among predatory birds, bats, hedgehogs, lizards, beetles, and even ants. According to Papa Papillon, the female swallowtail lays about 120 eggs. Usually about 50 caterpillars hatch from them, ten of which are pupa, and then butterflies hatch from them. And this is exactly where the master of butterflies intervenes. “I have at least 80 butterflies out of 120 eggs.”
From uncomplicated foxes and confused bears
When recommending others do the same, the Papillon almost always refers to the swallowtail. On the other hand, because this species, like many others, can really need protected breeding, but mainly because its reproduction, similar to the lesser tortoiseshell or the peacock butterfly, is uncomplicated. As an experienced butterfly breeder, Papa Papillon also takes care of other species. At the moment there will be about Barenspinner.
Just one of the many bear moth cocoons that winter in Papa Papillon.
Like other moths, the brown bear has an additional problem with humans, according to Papa Papillon: the many lights we leave on at night. “Gas stations are as bright as day, floodlights in stadiums, streetlights: this kills thousands of insects every night.” The moth will orient itself using moonlight and will be confused with additional light sources. “They don’t fly in the lamps and die, but they fly around the lamps all night and lie tired on the floor the next morning.” Where they then turn into food for birds, lizards, and the like. To prevent this, Papa Papillon collects butterflies early in the morning, takes them to his breeding facility and nurses them.
This was only part of what Papa Babylon could offer from his 20 years of experience. There are a number of myths, legends and, above all, widespread misconceptions about butterflies that must be refuted. You can read what the master of butterflies has to say also in a second article to be published in the near future.