Releasing Butterflies: Dos and Dont’s

In the past five years I have seen more cocoon-festooned butterfly tents in more preschool rooms and elementary school classes than I could have ever imagined. At first I thought my daughter’s preschool teacher was the just the bee’s knees for coming up with such a brainstorm–raising butterflies!–until I realized it was happening in hundreds if not thousands of classrooms across the country. (I still thought she was the bee’s knees, just not for her butterfly brilliance.)

I became curious about this trend: Would new species disturb local ecosystems? Was ecological doom lurking at the hands of gleeful 4-year-olds? I turned to my trusty book of all things butterflies, The Family Butterfly Book (Storey Publishing, 2000) by butterfly buff Rick Makula, and was surprised to discover that with the signing of the Plant Protection Act, there is a whopping $50,000 fine for illegally transporting a butterfly across a state line. Who knew?

I also found that butterfly releasing is a hugely popular wedding trend. Seriously better than balloons, to be sure. If you plan on raising and releasing butterflies, the book offers these important dos and don’ts:

There are many species of butterflies residing in every state. Enjoy and become acquainted with the ones that live in your area. If they are not in your area now, it’s because what they need to survive is not present.

Do experience the excitement of raising butterflies.

Do release your butterflies back into your garden.

Do release them outside at the proper time of year.

Do use only healthy and active butterflies.

Do use butterflies from your home state.

Do encourage others to nurture and release butterflies.

Do not import live butterflies from other countries.

Do not ship live butterflies out of your home state unless you have secured permits from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Do not purchase live butterflies from breeders who do not have the proper permits.

Do not release butterflies into an area where they would not naturally be found.

Do not release butterflies at a time of year when they would not normally be flying.

Do not collect butterflies from state or federal parks.

For more about butterflies, see:
First Aid for Butterflies
How to Make Butterfly Bait


Elena T.
Elena Poensgen6 years ago

Thank you :)

Aleksandra K.
Past Member 6 years ago

Thanks for the entertaining article.

Ajla C.
Past Member 6 years ago


Dale Overall

Watching butterflies emerge from their chrysalis in the warm weather was/is delightful, especially the colourful and vibrant Monarchs, Swallowtails and the Mourning Cloak in the Spring time if one finds the place of gradual metamorphosis outdoors.

Sorry to see that the Monarch sometimes gets blighted by the nasty OE parasite not to mention the other parasites that inflict many other butterflies.

Of course moths such as the large Cecropia coming out of the cocoon was/is always a rare delight and a sighting of a Luna moth is pure enchantment.

Have never heard of releasing butterflies at a wedding before and some even do it for funerals.

Felt very sorry for the Red Admirals one day during the Spring while going home. Within the space of an hour, just thousands of them out that day...flying across the highway with them and cars on a collision course. So many died flying low. Have never seen so many of them at one time before and it is sad when many do not make it shortly after flying free.

Kelly Rogers6 years ago


Knut Franckenstein
Knut F7 years ago

I really appreciate this and will act accordingly soon!

Muriel Servaege
Muriel Servaege7 years ago

Thank you for the article.

Winn Adams
Winn Adams7 years ago


Marie W.
Marie W7 years ago

Just leave caterpillars- unless there are too many. In that case not all would survive anyway since plants would be eaten away.

Jennifer E.
Jennifer E7 years ago

Butterflies are such a treat to watch! My Mum lives in a retirement place with only small areas of garden. I saw a solar powered butterfly in a shop, and bought it for her for a bit of fun. She loves it! As do many of her friends who come to see her! So it ended up being a far less frivolous gift than I really thought it would be at the time.