MAY
2005

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

05-12-05

Butterflies at Weddings, Oh My!

June has always been considered the month for weddings. There was just something special about being a June bride, I guess. One wag says that the month of June was a favorite month for weddings because that's when people historically started taking regular baths again after a long hard winter. And one is to presume that clean brides and grooms were off to a good start in their married life.

In the recent decade, the other end of summer, August, has dethroned June as our favorite month to get hitched. Yes, a little more than 10 percent of U.S. weddings are held in the heat of August. June is second with 9.9 percent of the annual weddings.

Statistics aside, I still think of June as the wedding month. At least that is, when I receive inquiries about releasing butterflies as part of the ceremony. Of course, such a question would probably not even be considered for a December wedding. When asked about using butterflies at a wedding, I always respond with a question of my own. "What is wrong with rose petals or rice?"

There is just something about the beauty of fluttering butterflies that captures the imagination of brides-to-be. I am never asked by grooms-to-be about using butterflies at weddings. That may be because grooms are just not interested in butterflies or have very little say in weddings.Or both.

I'm not sure where this thing about releasing butterflies at weddings got started. However, "Angels & Insects," a movie from a few years ago, included a wedding scene with butterflies fluttering around. It was appropriate for that movie wedding set in Victorian times. Especially since the groom was a naturalist specializing in those beautiful blue morpho butterflies from the Amazon.

I discourage the use of butterflies at weddings. It's not because I like the traditional tossing of the rice that much. And, goodness knows, I would enjoy the sight of fluttering butterflies as much as anyone at a wedding. But the problems outweigh the benefits.

Problem No. 1 is where can you get butterflies for release at weddings. Such an activity is popular enough that several suppliers are listed on the Internet. At $10 per scale-winged flapper, the cost can add up quickly. Especially since a dozen -- and they might be somewhat cheaper by the dozen -- butterflies do not provide much of an aerial display. So, you will need several hundred to make the release worthwhile. Now we are talking quite a few dollars, just for the insects.

So, if you don't purchase your butterflies, it might be possible to collect your own. I can't imagine many brides and their mothers wanting to grab butterfly nets and run over meadow and byway on the day before the big event.

Or you could raise your own butterflies. But that has the problem of getting the adults to emerge at just the right time -- the day before the wedding. If you fail in the timing, you might get the wedding guests to enjoy watching a few caterpillars crawl down the aisle.

An additional problem is keeping the butterflies alive up to the time of the release. It is not a very pleasant sight when the butterflies are tossed up in the air and half fall lifeless to the ground. And, besides, live butterflies don't always fly on command, especially when they have been confined.

Additionally, many butterfly biologists have been opposed to such releases because there is the possibility of releasing non-native species into an area. That is how new pests sometimes get started. And even butterflies that are native to the area could introduce new genetics or diseases that might cause the natural populations to be harmed.

Maybe that is why more weddings are being held outdoors in August. This is the time when natural butterfly populations are at their peak, and nature might just provide the real thing. Along with mosquitoes, of course! Hey, you can't expect everything to be perfect for a wedding.

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox