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Butterfly Releases at Weddings

 and other events


Impenjati Butterflies object to the release of butterflies at weddings and other events.

The reasons are clear as noted from excerpts of a letter written by Dr Jeffery Glassberg of the North American Butterfly Association. These reasons as far as Impenjati Butterflies is concerned apply to Southern African conditions as well. (See article below).

Media Reports on Butterfly Releases

New York Times, Sept. 15, 1998. Dr. Sonia Altizer, a disease ecologist at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, and one of the few scientists sudying Monarch diseases says "In natural populations there are all sorts of parasites present that aren't a problem until you do captive breeding at high densities in close quarters. In addition, many people raise caterpillars on drugs that can suppress diseases caused by protozoa and bacteria but not eliminate them. When such apparently healthy butterflies are released, they can act as carriers, spreading disease."


Reader's Views on Butterfly Releases

I just wanted to let you at that how much I appreciate the information I found this morning on your website regarding the release of butterflies at weddings. I am planning on getting married in March 2008 and have seen the advertisements in the bridal magazines about releasing butterflies at receptions. While it sounds like a beautiful idea, my first concern was whether or not it was cruel or would in any way harm a butterfly to be stuck in a small box (I was pretty sure I knew what the logical answer was). Before I made any decisions I wanted to do some research to find out. Thanks to your website I WILL NOT even be considering releasing butterflies. Not only does it seem like it would be unpleasant for the butterflies, I had never even thought of the ecological consequences. Thank you so much for helping me keep my reception free from harming these beautiful creatures!!

Jolene Hattle, Durban, South Africa.


Shame on them. I have just visited your site and I was shocked to learn that people actually releasing butterflies at weddings in South Africa. I have never heard of such a thing here in Brazil, I guess it hasn't occurred to anyone yet. It's something really stupid because if you are releasing them, you probably have to imprison them before the release. It is also sad, because, I wouldn't like to start up my marriage on such a note, knowing that many of these creatures die before the release. I had no idea people could do this kind of thing. Butterflies represent freedom. The really great feeling of being visited by a butterfly in nature cannot be bought. They choose to come of their own free will. You can't force them. This is indeed terrible.  I hope that the conservation bodies in your country will be able to put a stop to this practice soon.

Maria Rossini, Brazil

Dr Jeffery Glassberg - NABA

It has been almost three years since the editorial "There's No Need To Release Butterflies-They're Already Free" appeared in this space. The editorial (by Jeffrey Glassberg -- president of the NABA and author of Butterflies Through Binoculars, Paul Opler -- author of Peterson Field Guide to Butterflies, Bob Pyle -- founder of Xerces Society and author of Audubon Society Field Guide to Butterflies, Bob Robbins -- curator of Lepidoptera at the United States National Museum, Smithsonian Institution and Jim Tuttle -- then president of the Lepidopterists Society) explained why releasing commercially raised butterflies into the environment -- at weddings and other events -- is truly a terrible idea.

... At NABA, we are often contacted for permission to reproduce the editorial, and for information about butterfly releases. It is clear that the editorial, and NABA's continuing efforts to educate the public about the potentially devastating effects of butterfly releases has had a significant impact. Many, many individuals have reconsidered their own plans to release butterflies into the environment after reading the information from the NABA. The fact that the commercial butterfly breeders who encourage these releases are constantly attacking NABA is a clear measure of the impact that we are achieving.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has taken the position that it is appropriate for the USDA to regulate the interstate shipment of live butterflies, since butterflies are potential agricultural pests.
The USDA is now reconsidering it's regulations regarding the interstate shipment of live butterflies.

Because butterflies are pollinators, they are an important component of plant ecosystems, not just potential plant pests. Heretofore, the USDA has viewed their authority to regulate the shipment of butterflies as stemming only from their potential as plant pests. However, butterflies are a major part of the pollination community. Although the efficiency of butterfly-induced pollination is lower than bee-induced pollination, the cumulative importance of butterfly pollination is probably important to many plant communities. From personal observations, I would conclude that for particular plants in particular areas, butterflies are probably the major factor in pollination. Because any threat to butterfly populations is a threat not only to the butterflies themselves, but also to plant communities, the USDA does have the authority to regulate potential threats to butterfly populations.

Releases of commercially-raised butterflies may spread disease and epidemics to native butterfly populations. This issue is critical. All known biological organisms are affected by diseases and parasites. The spread of diseases from one area to another has decimated populations. For example, American chestnuts almost became extinct due to the introduction of a fungus from Europe. The transmission of measles from European populations of humans to New World populations of humans killed more Native Americans than did any wars. The lesson here is that not all populations of the same or related species have been exposed to all diseases that may affect that species. Our knowledge of butterfly diseases is rudimentary, but we do know that there are many species of viruses, including many baculoviruses and nuclear polyhedral viruses, many bacteria, and many fungi that cause diseases of butterflies. Such diseases have been found to be prevalent in shipments of commercially - raised butterflies.

Shipping butterflies from California to New York, or from Florida to New York or California and then releasing the butterflies into the environment would allow a California disease to spread to wild butterfly populations in New York, or a Florida disease to spread to California. The fact that Red Admirals can be found in Florida and in California does not preclude the likelihood that some diseases or parasites of Red Admirals and other butterflies are currently limited in their range to, for example, Florida, or to California.

In the late 1940's, House Finches, a bird that until then had been found only in western United States, were released onto Long Island, New York. These few birds have now spread throughout the entire eastern United States, demonstrating that although a particular species may currently be found in only one section of the United States, there is no guarantee that it will not thrive in a different region if introduced into that region. If this is true of a bird, it can be just as true of a diseases-causing organism.

The practice of shipping live butterflies around the country and releasing them into the environment carries with it the possibility of unleashing invasive diseases. Large-scale commercial operations foster the spread of disease and the generation of new diseases that can devastate butterflies. It is well known that agriculture and animal husbandry, by increasing densities of an organism, create conditions that are extremely favorable for the spread of disease-causing agents of that organism. In addition, these conditions encourage the creation of new disease-causing organisms

The fitness of local butterfly populations may be decreased by interbreeding with released individuals. A recent report in Nature (Moore, P.D. 2000). "Conservation biology: Seeds of doubt" Nature 407: 683-685.) highlights the unexpected findings that, released into the environment, individuals that originate non-locally, will breed with local individuals and decrease the fitness of the local population, by introducing genes that are not optimal for the local environmental conditions.


Scientific studies and observation by lepidopterists are confused by butterfly releases. The movements and migrations of butterflies are still very poorly understood. Scientists, trying to track, for example, northward movement in the spring of Painted Ladies, now are confused by Painted Ladies being released into the environment. Lepidopterists, who would be thrilled to see a Zebra Heliconian in North Carolina are cheated out of a satisfying experience because now the butterfly may well have occurred there unnaturally.

The commercially - raised and released butterflies often suffer. These butterflies often arrive dead or dying, at their destination, and then are often released into hostile environments at inappropriate times of the year.


Butterflies are living animals, not toys. There is something ethically wrong with treating butterflies as if they were mere playthings for humans. They are not toys, or to use a Bob Pyle phrase, "living balloons."

We do not allow those who like birds to ship chickadees around the country and then release to them into the environment. There no reasons which would allow butterflies to be treated any differently.

North American Butterfly Association (NABA)

Information on the above can also be obtained from Dr Adrian Armstrong, Biodiversity Division, KZN Wildlife (033 845 1999)