DIY Butterfly Release

Imagine a Butterfly Release. The bride is holding the top of the release container, and the groom is holding the bottom. The bride then pulls the top of the release container away and suddenly the bride and groom are standing in a cloud of colorful butterflies. Some of the butterflies land on the bride and groom. Some fly away, and some land on other members of the celebration. It’s an unforgettable moment and results in amazing memories and beautiful photos!

Before You Start

  • Temperature – To have a successful butterfly release, the temperature must be at least 60° F, and preferably 65°+ F. If the air is colder than that your butterflies will not be able to fly.
  • Rain Rain Go Away – If it rains at your wedding, cancel your butterfly release unless it’s a light rain. A light rain will cause them to land right away. A heavy rain could kill them. Just wait till the rain is over and release them then.
  • USDA regulations – Warning: release butterflies in the same state you collect them in. USDA regulations require a permit to release butterflies in a different state from the one they were collected in. This is a very important law that protects not only the butterflies but also farmers. For example if you collect a pretty white butterfly called the pieris rapae and release it near a cabbage farmer you could cause problems for him/her. They know pieris rapae as “that caterpillar that will try to eat my entire crop”. The common name of that butterfly is the “Cabbage White”. Be responsible and only release butterflies reasonably close to where they were collected and never across state lines.
  • Expired Butterflies – Even if you do everything perfectly, you will still end up with some expired butterflies. This is because most butterflies have a short lifespan. Some species live as little as two days as an adult. Most butterfly species have an adult lifespan of roughly four weeks. Because you are not raising your butterflies from caterpillars like butterfly farmers you cannot know how old they are. If you happen to catch a 23 day old butterfly it probably will expire before you release them.
  • How Many Should I Collect? – We recommend at least 1 dozen butterflies. 2 or 3 dozen is better. By law you may not release more than 250 butterflies of one species at one event.
  • Ants and Sunlight – The two biggest dangers to your butterflies will be sunlight and ants. Always keep both in mind when you’re moving your butterflies. From the second you start collecting make sure you keep your butterflies out of direct sunlight and away from ants. Simply placing a box of butterflies on the ground near an ant nest or in direct sunlight can result in dead butterflies. I recommend placing your butterflies in the ice chest (more on that later) as soon as you catch them.
  • Bug Spray and Frontline – Another thing to be aware of is bug spray. Butterflies are bugs, and most forms of bug sprays will kill them. Don’t spray anything in the same room as your butterflies, and don’t place your butterflies in a room that you have used bug spray in within 2 weeks. Frontline deserves a special notice. If you use frontline on your pets, keep your butterflies at another house. Frontline will kill the butterflies even if your pets do not get near them.

For Catching Butterflies you will need…

  • 1 Package Glassine Envelope w/ungummed flaps – Glassine Envelope w/ungummed flapsYou will need one per butterfly. The envelopes should be roughly 3″ X 2″ with the flap on the long edge. As you catch butterflies you can slide them into these envelopes to protect them. You will probably need to order this online.
  • 1 Butterfly Net – Butterfly NetThe butterfly net should have a handle that is about 2″ – 3″ long. The opening in the net should have about a 10″ diameter. The net’s “pouch” needs to be at least twice as deep as the diameter. Please read the “Catching Butterflies” article before buying your butterfly net. You will probably need to order this online.
  • 3 Cold Packs – Cold Packs3 cold packs or 3 bags of frozen vegetables will work perfectly. Do not use ice. Ice melts and bags leak. If the butterfly’s container touches water they will probably die.
  • 1 Small Box – Any small box that is at least 3″ deep and at least 4″ on the longest side will work. A shoe box would work perfectly.
  • 1 Towel – Any towel will work. This is to cover the cold packs so that moisture cannot reach the butterflies.
  • 1 Ice Chest – Ice ChestThe ice chest must have room for 2 ice packs covered by a towel and the small box. It’s nice if the ice chest has a strap so that you can easily carry it with you when your netting butterflies.

For The Release Container you will need…

  • 1 Ruler
  • 1 Pair of Scissors
  • 2 Packages Tissue Paper – Tissue PaperThis the gift wrapping kind of tissue paper, not toilet tissue.
  • 1 Low Temp Hot Glue Gun – Low Temp Hot Glue GunMake sure it’s the low temp version.
  • 1 Small Box – Small BoxIt is very important that this box is the right size. You need to have a box that is at least 1″ deep and between 3″ and 4″ square. If it is to big the butterflies might damage their wings, or slide out of place. Please read the “Building An Instant Butterfly Release Container” article before making this purcahse.

Building An Instant Butterfly Release Container

If you are going to be painting your butterfly release container, make sure you paint it at least 2 weeks before placing butterflies in it. Fresh paint may harm your butterflies.

Some types of glue may harm your butterflies. Hot Glue is safe, but if you are using any other kind of glue we recommend waiting 2 weeks before placing butterflies in the container just to be safe.

Each butterfly release container can hold a maximum of 4 butterflies per fold. Make sure you have enough release boxes for the number of butterflies you plan on releasing.

Before you make your butterfly release container take the time to decorate it. Please remember that if you are going to use any glue other than Hot Glue, or any paint we recommend waiting two weeks before placing butterflies in the release container.

  1. Stack 4 sheets of tissue paper with the edges lined up. Then place the butterfly release container against the top left edge of the paper, and mark a line against the edge of the release box. Then do the same with the bottom left edge.
  2. Using a ruler or other straight edge connect the two lines.
  3. Use a knife or a pair of scissors cut along the line marked.
  4. Check and make sure the tissue paper fits snuggly against the edge of the release container. It is very important that the tissue paper fit tightly against the edge of the container. If you leave a gap the butterflies may slide into the crack. It’s OK if the tissue is slightly folded along the edge.
  5. Glue the edges of your cut tissue paper end to end to form a ribbon about 2 to 3 foot long. To do this you first run a line of hot glue down the edge of one piece of the tissue paper.
  6. Then place the second piece of tissue paper on top of the first with about 1 inch of overlap. Then run you finger down the paper pressing the two pieces together.
  7. Fill the container to about a 1/2 inch from the top with loosely packed tissue paper.
  8. Place the tissue paper in the box, filling edge to edge. You should not have gaps along the edges.
  9. Fold the tissue paper back from the edge, creating layers of tissue paper. Continue creating layer after layer till only have about 4 inches of tissue paper left.
  10. Using your Hot Glue attach the edge of the tissue paper to the top of the box.
  11. Put the top on the instant butterfly release container.
  12. Make sure everything is working by doing a practice run. Hold the bottom of the box in one hand, and the top of the box in your other hand. Then pull the top away from the bottom unfolding the tissue paper ribbon. Fold the tissue paper back into the box and your release container is ready for decorations. We will cover how to place butterflies in your butterfly release container later.

Finding Butterflies & Knowing your local laws

You need information before you can start gathering butterflies for your butterfly release. The first thing you need to learn about are your local laws. If there is an endangered butterfly species in your area you need to know what it looks like so you can avoid it. You need to know where you can legally find and collect butterflies locally.

Fortunately there are two groups that you can contact that are able to help you find butterflies. Both will know the local laws, and both groups tend to be friendly and helpful. The first is your local college’s Entomology (study of insects) department. The second is any local lepidoptera (butterfly) clubs.

How to catch a butterfly

Take your butterfly net and swing it horizontally a few times. If you look at the net as you swing it you can see that the pouch forms a “cave”. Near the end of your swing twist your wrist 45 degrees clockwise and you close the “cave”. The reason you want to have a deep pouch is so that you are able to close the “cave” and still have lots of room for butterflies in the bottom of the net.

When you are in the field and see a butterfly, walk slowly near it and wait for it to land. Then swing the net horizontally “skimming” the surface the butterfly has landed on. After near the end of the swing, just before you slow down, twist your wrist to close the net. Keeping the net closed carefully reach into the net and get the butterfly.

How to hold a butterfly

Butterflies do not have teeth or stingers, so you are in no danger of being hurt by a butterfly. The reason you don’t want to just grab a butterfly is because you can hurt it, not because of any danger of it hurting you.

Holding a butterfly without harming it is easy as long as you hold it correctly. A person can accidentally kill a butterfly by squeezing to hard, you can also rub the scales off the top of a butterflies wings with your fingers.

To hold a butterfly without hurting it “pinch” the wings closed between two fingers. Holding the butterfly this way will protect the scales from being rubbed off by your fingers, and you can hold it tight without worrying about crushing it.

Placing a butterfly in a glassine envelope

Holding the butterflies wings pinched closed, slide your fingers into the glassine envelope. When you have the butterfly all the way in the envelope, release the butterfly and close the envelope. With some practice, this is easy to do.

Going to collect butterflies

Check the butterfly release supplies page for a list of the gear you should have.

Before you leave, place an ice pack in the bottom of your ice chest and then cover the ice pack with a towel. Then place a small box on the towel. You will carry this with you when netting butterflies. After you catch a butterfly and place it in a glassine envelope, place the envelope in the ice chest. This will keep the butterflies cool while you collect more.

Make sure you never place your butterflies on the ground unless you are watching them. This is because of ants. Keep a close eye on your ice chest when you are not carrying it.

WARNING: Never leave butterflies in the car! Even in an ice chest they can quickly overheat and die!

WARNING: Never let the glassine envelopes come into contact with water! This includes condensation on ice packs. That’s what the towel and box is for.

Find out which fold to start at

Before you start you need to know how much of the tissue paper will be pulled out when the butterflies are released on the release day. Have someone (preferably whoever will be doing the actual release) hold the bottom of the box in one hand, and the top of the box in the other hand. Then pull your hands far apart quickly unfolding the tissue paper.

Spread your hands as far apart as you can comfortably reach. Then take the bottom of the tissue paper and fold one layer back into the release box. This fold is where you need to start placing your butterflies. Do not place them any deeper than this point so that you can get a full release with one pull.

Place your butterflies in the release container

Count and see how many folds have available. You need to stop one fold from the top of the release container. Now divide the number of butterflies you have by the number of available folds. This will let you know how many butterflies you need to place in each fold. For example, If you have 24 butterflies and 6 folds you will need to place 4 butterflies in each fold. (note: 4 is the maximum number of butterflies per fold.)

Having an extra pair of hands is really helpful for this part. Take a butterfly out of it’s glassine envelope and hold it flat against the inside edge of the bottom fold. If you are placing more than one butterfly per fold, then have your partner place the next butterfly on top of your butterfly while you release the butterfly you are holding. This way they are holding both in place and you can add another butterfly to the stack.

Once you have filled the a fold, simply flip the tissue over and use it to hold the butterflies in place while you fill up the next fold. Once all folds are filled put the top on the box.

Package your butterfly release container

Now that you have your butterflies loaded into the butterfly release container, you need to package it for travel. To do this place an ice pack or two (depending on how big your ice chest is) in the bottom of the ice chest. Then cover it with one of the hand towels. Place your butterfly release container on the towel and close the ice chest.

As the air in the ice chest cools the butterflies will go dormant and act like they are sleeping. One and a half to two hours before the release you need to remove them from the ice chest and let them warm up to room temperature.