If princess movies taught us anything, it's that beautiful women are always surrounded by eager animal companions. It seems only natural that a bride would want fluttering butterflies alighting on her throughout her wedding day. In the real world, however, it's not as easy as singing a song and watching the cute critters arrive. Animal releases can be beautiful additions to an outdoor ceremony, but they take a lot of preparation and proper research to ensure that they're humane and safe.
The life cycle of the butterfly makes it the perfect choice for a symbol of embarking on a new life path. Just as caterpillars turn into gorgeous new creatures, the married couple is also spreading metaphorical wings. Filling the sky with fluttering, colorful butterflies makes a poetic statement as well as a beautiful photo-op.
Although Monarch butterflies are the most popular choice for weddings due to their relatively large size and vibrant orange hue, some species of butterflies are known for their tendency to stick around the release site for a longer period of time. If you want butterflies to grace your reception for the rest of the afternoon, opt for a species like the Painted Lady. Some companies offer a mix of the two.
While a group release from a single decorative container works well for a dramatic rush of butterfly wings, you may also want to try an individual release. This is where each guest is given a small, decorative cage or box with one butterfly apiece. (Avoid paper envelopes, as the rough surface can abrade the wings of the butterflies and make it difficult for them to fly.) Let your guests know that they are holding live animals and need to be gentle. At the appropriate time, the guests all open their packets and release their butterflies together. Be sure to check beforehand whether any guests have insect phobias, as they will appreciate being given a place to stand away from the release.
You can order butterflies online or by phone and they will be shipped to you in the mail overnight (ideally arriving the day before your wedding). Before ordering, however, be sure to research the company thoroughly. Not only do you want to ensure that the butterflies are treated well for kindness's sake–you also don’t want to end up with a bunch of dead insects on the day of your wedding!
Reputable companies will not ship species of butterflies to areas outside of the butterflies' natural environment. You can independently research online what species of butterflies are native to your area if you want to be sure you order butterflies that will survive after your release. Look for a company that is a member of the International Butterfly Breeders Association, Inc. (IBBA) to ensure that they follow all safety regulations. It's also important to choose butterflies that are disease-free, as you will be releasing them into an open habitat.
Live butterflies are usually shipped with ice, since the cold temperature keeps them dormant and calm during transport. When you receive your butterfly package, immediately put a fresh ice pack into the box, but don't go overboard by putting the box into a refrigerator or freezer! Crack the lid slightly or poke small holes to allow ventilation.
About an hour before the release, take the ice pack out of the box and let your butterflies warm up. You should see more activity within minutes. Butterfly releases are best done on warm days over 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Never release butterflies at night or into cold, rainy, or windy weather! They will not fly and could end up creating a depressing mess.
The best locations for butterfly releases are flower-filled gardens and parks. Butterflies are attracted to the bright colors and nectar of flowers and will instinctively fly toward nearby flowers to feed. They may also be attracted to the bride's bouquet, which creates a stunning photo opportunity. If you want to encourage this, find out beforehand what flowers especially attract the species of butterfly you release. (If you're using Monarchs, definitely augment the bouquet with a few sprigs of milkweed.)
Butterflies make beautiful and eco-friendly alternatives to balloon releases, which can show up as deflated litter later and incur large fines. If your wedding location isn't butterfly-friendly, don’t worry; you can still experience the beauty and grace of the colorful animals by incorporating butterfly-shaped jewelry and ornaments in centerpieces, bouquets, and in the bride's and bridesmaids' hair. Icing butterflies also make stunning additions to wedding cakes and cupcakes. Whether you use live butterflies or colorful butterfly ornaments, you're sure to add a bit of magic to your occasion.