- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2001

Butterflies are the new rice. Imagine: As giddy bride and groom pronounce vows or leave by limo, the wedding guests loose live butterflies to mark the moment.
It is a concept both fascinating and barbaric: Along with bubble-blowing and cakes shaped like skyscrapers, fluttering Lepidoptera are the newest accessory of choice for weddings of note.
They do not arrive by chrysalis, however.
These butterflies — monarchs and swallowtails, primarily — are packed in decorative boxes for a "mass release," or come one-to-an-envelope for individual guests who, in years past, threw rice or bird seed.
The packaged creatures are shipped by overnight delivery in an iced container with an ice pack. Hundreds of entrepreneurs have taken up "butterfly ranching," supplying butterflies for weddings or corporate events that need a novelty draw.
They do not come cheap.
The California-based Butterfly Events offers a special wedding promotion of 100 butterflies "packaged individually in special release packets" for $900. Miami-based Butterfly Mystique assures customers that their orders are shipped by Federal Express, which "ensures the freshness of your butterflies." And at Blessed Wings in Texas, where the monarchs go for $95 a dozen, brides are advised to designate a "butterfly-release coordinator."
Such trappings seem ironic in an age that strictly regulates the use of spiders, rats and even cockroaches during Hollywood filmings.
All of this has not sat well with the North American Butterfly Association (NABA), which has declared war on the practice and upon the International Butterfly Breeders Association, a trade group. NABA has posted horror stories of dead, stunned or injured butterflies tumbling from their origami envelopes and beribboned boxes at its Web site ( www.naba.org ).
In a joint statement, NABA members, along with representatives from the Smithsonian Institution, the Audubon and Lepidopterists societies, have condemned the idea, calling it the "dark side" of butterfly popularity and a form of environmental pollution.
"There is something ethically wrong with treating butterflies as if they were mere playthings for humans," the group noted. They can arrive "dead or dying," suffer in a hostile environment, disrupt natural migration patterns, carry disease and otherwise threaten the neighborhood butterflies. In addition, butterfly "poaching" has become common in certain areas of the Southwest and in Mexico.
Nonsense, counters the breeders association, which calls the claims "extremist" and offers a point-by-point deconstruction of NABAs ideas at its own Web site (www.butterflybreeders.org).
"The release of butterflies at special events increases public awareness of the magnificence of this insect," the group says, adding that NABA "cannot cite one documented case of a shipment of commercially raised butterflies carrying and transmitting any disease to the wild population."
Though many of their members offer fancy white cages and engraved envelopes to hold the living butterflies, the breeders group has a code of ethics that forbids members from shipping wild butterflies to inclement climates and urges them to "ensure the well-being and safety of the livestock."
They also claim a higher calling.
"The release of butterflies at funerals, weddings and other events is a very worthwhile, spiritual and emotional experience," the breeders group advises. "It is not looked upon as playing with toys."
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is reviewing regulations that permit butterflies to be sent across state lines, even as butterfly protectors and traffickers continue their flap.
Both sides advise their respective sympathizers to contact the USDA or the Interior Deptartment to state their beliefs. Still, butterfly releases have risen in popularity — one large supplier now caters to 1,500 weddings a year while a full-color ad in a recent wedding magazine guaranteed, "Our butterflies are the friendliest!"
One former butterfly supplier has abandoned the business.
The California-based Butterfly Conservancy has discontinued selling the creatures for social purposes, but will sell to educational programs at zoos or schools where children hand-raise butterflies from caterpillars. "Our primary concern is the welfare of these exquisite and fragile creatures above all else," they say.
"I dont believe well ever be able to raise enough butterflies in captivity to match annually the number of butterflies killed by cars," suggested one Florida dealer. "I respect peoples opinions, but the more people that recognize butterflies, the more respect for the wild population."
Meanwhile, NABA — the butterfly advocates — suggests brides concentrate on flora rather than fauna."A truly beautiful and environmentally friendly way to celebrate a wedding is to throw rose petals," said the groups president, Jeffrey Glassman. "You can even use outdated roses from your florist."

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