University of Minnesota

Catching Butterflies

Butterfly hunting is a great field activity! (Photo: Cindy Petersen)

If you want to catch wild butterflies, you'll need a net. You can purchase a good butterfly net or make one. The net should be at least 24 inches deep, allowing you to trap a butterfly in the deep end of the net without harming it. Don't buy a cheap "kids" net, as they will usually damage the butterfly.


Making a Butterfly Net


Butterfly Net (Photo: Monarch Lab)
  • Wooden handle (a large dowel cut into various kid-and adult-sized lengths works well)
  • Wood carving tool (a sharp penknife will work)
  • 8-gauge wire for rim of net (or a wire hanger)
  • Wire, cord, or duct tape to fasten rim to handle
  • Netting to make the bag (bridal veil material works)
  • Needle and thread (or sewing machine)
  • Muslin fabric
  • Drill


Assembly Instructions

  1. Cut grooves in opposite sides of the end of the wooden handle. Grooves should be approximately 2 in. long on one side and approximately 3 in. long on the other side (Fig. A).
  2. Drill holes through the handle about halfway along each groove.
  3. Cut the netting in a W-shape (Fig. D), where the top of the W is the circumference of the rim.
  4. Cut a strip of muslin about 3 inches wide and as long as the circumference of the net. Fold it in half and sew it to the top of the W; this should create a muslin sleeve attached to the netting, which is where the wire forming the net rim will go.
  5. Sew the bag closed (Fig. E).
  6. Slide the 8-gauge wire through the muslin sleeve of the bag. Shape it into the net's rim, a loop with ends (Fig. B). These ends should fit into the grooves and drilled holes of the wooden handle.
  7. Fasten the rim to the handle by wrapping around the end of the handle with thin wire, heavy cord, or duct tape (Fig. C).

Making the Catch

Monarch nectaring (Photo: Amy Witty)

When in flight, monarchs are wary and difficult to catch. It's best to locate them feeding on flowers or while they are on the roosts late in the day or early in the morning.

  1. Approach slowly (from behind if possible). Sudden movement may startle them into flight.
  2. Sweep the net forward quickly and flip the end of the net bag over the net handle after you catch a butterfly to prevent them from flying back out of the net. You want the butterfly in the deep end of the net.
  3. With one hand holding the handle, use the other hand to collapse the end of the net. There should be enough space at the deep end to prevent damage to the butterfly.
  4. Gently flatten the net bag so the wings of the butterfly are closed over its back (thorax) and place your thumb and forefinger over the leading edge of the wings (from outside of net).
  5. Next, with the thumb and forefinger of your other hand, reach into the net and firmly grasp the thorax or all four wings. Carefully remove the butterfly.

If you wish to store your butterfly (to transport or hold for later examination), you can use a paper triangle or glassine envelope (stamp envelope). If you need to store the butterfly for more than a few hours (i.e. overnight or up to 2 days), place the envelope in a plastic box or zip lock bag in the refrigerator. It will be fine! Be sure to keep captured butterflies out of the sun.

Interested in tagging? Visit the Monarch Watch website for instructions.

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