LEWISTON — There’s no lasso, chaps or bucking broncos on this ranch. And there’s no hay or slop for the animals.
Instead, the critters eat a combination of soybean, nectar and water. And rancher Jeff Shock has to be careful not to smash them.
Shock is the proprietor of the Rainbow Butterfly Ranch at his home in West Paris, where he has developed a system of 5-foot-tall butterfly-breeding cages that overflow his home. He sells them for $6 apiece.
Weddings provide most of the demand. Other requests have been for butterflies for release at graduations, memorial services, christening and even bar mitzvahs.
Shock won’t say how he can train a butterfly to perch on the edge of a bouquet as a bride walks down the aisle, but it’s not with a rough hand and a lasso.
“That’s something we’re keeping to ourselves,” he said. “We’re calling it a trade secret.”
The butterflies mate in the mesh-enclosed cages that contain hollyhock bushes, where female butterflies to lay their eggs. Females can lay up to 1,500 eggs in two to four weeks of life.
Once they hatch, the insects eat through their shells and munch the hollyhock leaves where they were born.
When they’re three-sixteenths of an inch long, Shock relocates the caterpillars to small plastic containers using a paintbrush or cotton swab. It’s a delicate task. Out of 1,200 caterpillars, he has squashed only two. Shock credits his fly-tying experience for his dexterity.
The butterflies and larva are fed special soybean food mixed with water and nectar. And they’re misted with water every few hours.
From the time the mother lays the eggs to the time the butterfly bursts from the cocoon takes about 45 days. At the end of July, Shock expects to have more than 25,000 butterflies on his ranch.
He dreams of creating a butterfly zoo with many varieties, if the state approves. For now, he is sticking to Painted Ladies, which are native to the state.
Sheila Delamater, owner of the Enchanted Florist in West Paris, is Shock’s lone retailer. And it hasn’t taken her long to warm to the idea of butterfly sales.
Delamater said she had 50 customers wanting to release them at different functions even before the first little fellows had even hatched from their cocoons in May.
Despite teasing that they use super glue, Shock and Delamater won’t say how they keep a live butterfly on the bouquet as a bride walks down the aisle. The only thing he will say is, “It’s not cruel.”