Ultimate Guide to Releasing Butterflies at a Wedding

butterfly landing in a woman's hands

If you are looking for a unique way to capture the beauty of your wedding day, a butterfly release is a special and memorable way to do it. But what does it involve, and how much does it cost? 

Releasing butterflies at a wedding can cost between $100 and $650, including shipping, depending on how many butterflies you choose. It’s an excellent alternative to rice or confetti, and if they’re shipped quickly and released during the day when temperatures are warm, they will do well. 

In this article, I will take you through how much it costs to release butterflies and whether or not they can be released at a wedding. I’ll also explain if a butterfly release is cruel. 

How Much Does It Cost To Release Butterflies at a Wedding?

When planning your wedding, budgeting is essential, and you might wonder if you can afford a butterfly release. So, how much does it cost to release butterflies at a wedding? 

It costs between $65 and $600 to release butterflies at a wedding. The cost depends on the number of butterflies and if you choose one release box or individual envelopes for guests. Shipping is typically extra and costs between $35 and $50, depending on your location and the box size.

Below is some more information on the cost of releasing butterflies at a wedding: 

The Number of Butterflies is Important

The main factor affecting the cost of a butterfly release at a wedding is the number of butterflies you choose. Most butterfly release companies sell live butterflies per dozen or in the hundreds, and the most popular quantities include: 

  • One dozen
  • Two dozen
  • Three dozen 
  • Five dozen 
  • One hundred 
  • Two hundred 
  • Five hundred 

To remain competitive, some companies offer a dozen free butterflies if you order more than a hundred. 

Individual Butterfly Release Packaging Will Cost More

The packaging you select for your butterfly release also impacts the final price you pay. 

It is more costly to have individual release envelopes for each guest than one large box for the wedding couple. Some companies offer packages that include individual envelopes in addition to a release box, and many will also supply a box that matches your wedding colors or style at no extra cost. 

It Depends on the Shipping Method

Any reputable butterfly release company will ship your order using a priority service to ensure the safety and comfort of the live butterflies. They may also need to obtain a permit from the USDA if it is an interstate shipment, and this explains the high cost of the shipping. 

The more butterflies you order, the larger the box will be, which further increases the shipping cost. 

If you’d like to save money on shipping, you could consider using a company in your local area and collect the butterflies in person. 

blue butterfly on a leaf

Can Butterflies Be Released at Weddings?

Releasing butterflies at a wedding sounds like a beautiful concept, but what are the regulations around it? 

Butterflies can be released at weddings, but the company may need to obtain a USDA permit if it’s an interstate order. If you live to the east of the continental divide, you cannot release Western Monarchs and must choose another variety, such as the Painted Lady. 

The US continental divide runs through the following states: 

  • Montana
  • New Mexico
  • Wyoming
  • Colorado

Since Western Monarch butterflies aren’t native in the eastern part of the country and will compete with the native varieties for food and roosting places, the USDA prohibits shipping east of the continental divide. 

The USDA only issues permits for the following butterfly species: 

  • Mourning Cloak
  • Painted Lady 
  • Red Admiral 
  • Guly Fritillary 
  • Giant Swallowtail
  • Painted Lady
  • American Lady
  • Zebra Heliconian 

However, the most commonly-provided butterflies for release include the Painted Lady and the Monarch. 

If you’re concerned about releasing non-native butterflies into your area, consider selecting a native species. You can visit the Butterflies and Moths of North America website to check which butterflies occur in your state naturally. 

Here’s a video of what a butterfly release at a real wedding looks like:

What Does a Butterfly Release at a Wedding Mean?

A butterfly release is a beautiful gesture, but what does it signify if it is done at a wedding? 

A butterfly release at a wedding means the couple is marking their new journey together in a beautiful, unforgettable, and visual way. It also allows them to share the special moment with their guests. It’s also a fantastic alternative to rice or confetti. 

I’ll discuss what a butterfly release means in more detail below: 

The Couple Is Marking Their New Journey Together

Butterflies begin their journeys as dull caterpillars and transform into beautiful, colorful, winged creatures. For many people, the butterfly represents how their love has evolved, and their wedding day is the ideal opportunity to show how filled with hope and eagerness they are for their future together. 

Although many modern couples choose a butterfly release at their weddings, it doesn’t have to be a one-size-fits-all gesture, and you can personalize it. For instance, you may choose to read out a heartfelt poem or play a song that means a lot to you as a couple. 

It’s a Chance To Share the Special Moment with Guests

A wedding is an opportunity for your friends and family to share in your special moment; a butterfly release exemplifies this. 

Many couples give each guest an envelope with a butterfly in addition to releasing their butterflies. However, letting your guests watch as you release a large box of butterflies has an equally dramatic effect. 

Looking for additional ideas to make your wedding more memorable? Check out this post where I highlight 15 ways to make your wedding more memorable.

It’s an Eco-Friendly Alternative to Rice or Confetti

In the past, tradition dictated that wedding guests should shower the couple with confetti or rice to congratulate them. However, now that the world has become more aware of what can damage the environment, couples have been looking for more eco-friendly alternatives. 

After releasing your butterflies, they will seek nectar-rich plants for feeding and carry pollen on their bodies to help other plants reproduce, which is an excellent way to help the environment. 

Keep reading for other eco-friendly wedding tips here.

orange butterflies flying in the sky

Is a Butterfly Release Cruel?

If you have been considering releasing butterflies at your wedding and have discussed the issue with your friends and family, you might have encountered someone who has told you that it is cruel. Is a butterfly release cruel? 

A butterfly release is not cruel; as long the shipping time is not too long, you release them during the day and when the temperature is 60°F (15.4°C) or above. You should also ensure that the species you release is acceptable for your area. 

According to Swallowtail Farms, a reputable and longstanding butterfly release company, it’s perfectly safe to release butterflies into the wild since after release, they will easily adapt to any environment. 

Speaking specifically on if released butterflies weaken the population Dr Bruce Walsh says “Reared material from colonies that are continually flushed with wild material are extremely unlikely to cause genetic harm to the wild population when released”.

There are many more answers at this page on their website that cover some of the most common questions about butterfly releases and how it affects the creatures, environment and the local butterfly population.

PETA however disagrees. They consider a butterfly release to be cruel. And cite that many butterflies die in transit. So if you consider PETA’s values to align with your own then do not do a butterfly release at your wedding.

However, if you want to forge ahead, here are a few more things you can do on your end to keep the process as humane as possible.

Ensure That The Shipping Time Isn’t Too Long

If you browse any reputable butterfly release company’s website, you’ll notice that the only shipping option is express or priority. This ensures the butterflies’ safety and comfort and increases their chances of arriving alive and healthy. 

A good butterfly release company will pack the butterflies securely and use enough bubble wrap and other packaging material so that if the box is accidentally dropped, it will not harm the butterflies. In addition, they will give you instructions on how to take care of the butterfly box before the release. 

Ensure You Release Them During the Day

Butterflies are diurnal creatures, which means that they are active during the day. During shipping, it will be dark in the box, and the butterflies will sleep. If you open the box during the day, they will immediately sense the light, wake up, and fly away. 

If your wedding reception is at night, the butterflies will not fly off when you open the box, and a release will not be suitable. 

Ensure the Temperature Is 60°F (15.4°C) or Above

Butterflies are cold-blooded and rely on the external atmosphere to keep warm. During the colder months, they will either migrate or hibernate, and releasing them when the temperature is less than 60°F is cruel because it will place them under stress as they quickly try and find a place to hunker down. 

If you are having your wedding during one of the colder and less expensive months, a butterfly release wouldn’t be suitable. 

Ensure the Species Is Acceptable for Release 

The USDA only issues permits for the interstate shipment of certain butterfly species to safeguard the native species. Some butterflies can carry pathogens that could harm the native species if they are carrying a disease that is not present in your state. 

Non-native butterflies will also compete with the indigenous ones for food and roosting places. 

butterfly landing on an orange flower

Final Thoughts

Releasing butterflies at your wedding is a special opportunity for you and your partner to mark your new life journey together. Depending on how many butterflies you choose and how you release them, it can cost between $64 and $600. 

If you live east of the continental divide, you may not release Western Monarchs and will need to consider a native variety or another species, such as the Painted Lady. 

To ensure the butterflies’ survival, you should only release them at your wedding if you are certain that the temperatures will be 60°F (15.4°C) or over.

Looking for more unique ideas for your wedding? Check out this article on the most unique wedding themes.



Jaime is the owner of Loud Bride and Coast Designs LLC. She got married in 2017 in Geneseo, NY and designed her own wedding invitations and programs for the occasion. Now, she designs bespoke wedding stationery and affordable templates for other couples. She lives in New York city with her husband and two children.

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