Butterfly Farming Articles
The Butterfly Boutique  

Suggestions for Personal Protective Equipment (P.P.E.) for Butterfly Farming Activities

Linda Rogers


Some hazards of butterfly farming include:

  • Getting milkweed sap in the eyes when harvesting or feeding plants to livestock;
  • Rubbing the eyes after handling Monarch pupae;
  • Rashes from handling plants in the Rue family, as well as poison oak, poison ivy and poison sumac;
  • Insect bites and rashes from spiders, bees, wasps and small, “no-see-ums”; and
  • Malathion and other chemical spray applications

This article is prepared and offered with the intent of raising awareness of some of the dangers we find in our work. Hopefully an awareness of these things will help avoid injuries. It’s a wonderful thing to work outdoors with living, growing livestock and plants, but we must be aware and be careful! Any occupation has risks. It’s good to think about what we might come in contact with during our work and what supplies/equipment are good to keep on hand.

Safety glasses and surgical gloves are good Personal Protective Equipment (P.P.E.) to wear when cutting milkweed or handling Monarch pupae (full of milkweed). Many butterfly farmers cultivate tropical milkweed to feed Monarch larvae and in harvesting it, sometimes the cut end will spring back, and the plant sap can flip up into the harvester’s eyes. There have been reports of such injuries requiring trips to the hospital emergency room, and treatment by eye specialists to repair/heal the cornea. The injury to the eye can be not only extremely painful, but very expensive to treat. There is a danger in losing sight in the affected eye. Some people are very sensitive to Monarch pupae – especially when they are being processed in a room, in large numbers. Eye wash stations are a very good idea, in case of an accident so that the affected eye can be quickly and thoroughly rinsed with a powerful flush of water. Benadryl or antihistamine can also alleviate the itching and swelling.

When Nigel Venters first taught the butterfly farmers about using Rue-family plants, he was careful to educate everyone about using Rue – giving cautions about the possible severe rash reactions! Again, good "p.p.e." is advised! Wear gloves!

When working outdoors in the fields looking for eggs, caterpillars, butterflies or plants, it’s easy to get excited and forget to watch for snakes, spiders, bees, wasps, chiggers and “no-see-ums”. Heavy brush or high grass can hide some creatures that aren’t happy about having their space invaded! Best to wear gloves, boots and long pants. Gardener's gloves are a good idea to wear when exploring and getting plant cuttings or purple thistle seeds - watch out for poison oak, poison ivy and SUMAC, of course. It’s a good idea to keep a well-stocked first-aid kit with Calamine lotion and liquid Benadryl.

Applying a good amount of baby oil around the waistband area of your britches, underarms and the unmentionables offers an incredibly effective block for the "no see-ums" that invade your personal space when you're out in the fields. Oh, those little devils can drive you crazy and are so hard to get rid of!

Some farmers use a pressure washer and trailer-mounted tank to spray malathion. When applying a spray of Malathion or other chemicals, in addition to gloves, long sleeves, long pants and boots, a half-face respirator with specific protective cartridges may be warranted. With chemicals we have to remember that the skin is a "route of entry" and protect it and ourselves by covering up.

Sunscreen is the other really important p.p.e. we use - with the amount of exposure time we get being outdoors so much makes skin cancer a real concern.

The best thing you can do is purchase worker’s compensation insurance that is based on your payroll for cost. This is cheap in cost compared to a huge hospital/emergency room bill!


Protective equipment
photos © [not known]


All material on this website is © The Butterfly Boutique unless stated otherwise.