A butterfly or moth develops through metamorphosis: egg – larva or caterpillar – pupa or chrysalis – butterfly or moth. It begins as a caterpillar hatching from an egg and voraciously eating leaves till it gets bigger and bigger while molting its skin. Roughly after a few weeks it stops eating and hangs upside down from a twig or leaf and spins itself a cocoon and turns into a shiny chrysalis. Within this casing the caterpillar undergoes radical transformation and emerges as a beautiful butterfly or silk moth.

Butterflies are beautiful insects that fly. They have huge, colourful wings attached to their bodies consisting of a head, thorax and abdomen, as well as antennae and compound eyes. Their average life span is one month.

Like bees, butterflies are important to the ecosystem because they are pollinators. Why then do people commercially exploit them? Interestingly, researchers of the Annasaheb Garware College, Pune, revealed that most butterfly pollination occurs between 9 am and noon even though it continues till about 6 pm. They do not always pick the brightest coloured flowers but certain plants like the Ixora coccinea attract them.

That the global turnover of the butterfly house industry is USD 100 million proves that butterflies are grossly exploited by breeding, exhibiting and trading.

A butterfly house is actually a place that keeps captive butterflies, moths and other insects. It is a place where they are bred.

Butterfly houses are growing in number in tropical countries like India. They could be conservatories or farms. Both are bad. Conservatories, lepidopterariums, sanctuaries, parks, gardens, zoos, all pose risks to biodiversity; what’s more, butterfly farming is unethical.

A few of the big butterfly centres like the Butterfly Park in Bengaluru where they are being bred in India are exploring ways of using butterflies as a resource to enhance rural livelihood. Let’s hope it does not translate into butterflies being supplied to be released at events.

Other centres in India are the Butterfly Park at Shimla, Butterfly Conservatory of Ponda and the Ovalekar Wadi Butterfly Garden at Thane.

In December 2020 a 4-acre Pollinator Park was opened at Nainital’s Haldwani in Uttarakhand, with 40 species of butterflies, honeybees, insects and birds. The habitat created for the pollinator species had been developed by the Research Wing of the Uttarakhand Forest Department with the objective of conserving them and in order to create an awareness among the public of their importance because 1,80,000 different plant species existed due to them.

BWC has drawn the attention of the Government of India to foreign butterfly breeding kits being sold under the category of toys & games by Amazon. They contain a mail-in coupon for 5 caterpillars/larvae of which 3 are expected to survive.

Shockingly, butterflies can be ordered online abroad. The spectacular Monarch is largely used by companies for butterfly releases, as well as the Painted Lady. They are delivered frozen in ice packs and need to be stored thus before they are released for an event such as a wedding or funeral. Preserved (read dead) butterflies are used as decorations too. Farming, hibernating, shipping and finally releasing them is cruel. Butterfly releases are no different to bird releases. The captured creatures fly up into the sky and eventually die due to some reason or another.

Some people opt for a compassionate way by using faux butterflies (made from rice paper) for events. Guests open folded napkins containing these faux paper butterflies and they “flutter” out! Bengali weddings usually display butterfly motifs. That’s fine as long as no live butterflies are used.

Another alternative for a compassionate and environmentally friendly event such as a wedding is to shower rose petals or toss confetti. One could even opt for alternatives such as floating fresh flowers in a water-body as this does not cause harm to any living creature. If rice is tossed it needs to be cleared else it attracts birds and others.

Butterfly collections are no longer passé. But, the cruel trade in butterflies continues. There are businesses that kill and turn butterflies and bugs into items. Colourful and beautiful butterflies are converted into jewellery and knick knacks, some encased or embedded in plastic or resin, some framed behind glass. For example, “one-of-a-kind” pair of earrings and necklaces is made with actual whole butterfly wings sandwiched between two thin pieces of glass with metal shaped around.

Butterfly ornaments, paper weights, pen stands and key chains may look pretty, but not upon knowing that they represents capture, torture and death. Another method is 24kt gold or silver dipped jewellery and display items made by electroforming, a process that uses a matrix/mandrel which could be a real butterfly, insect, flower, leaf or seashell. It is an extremely cruel process because the delicate live creatures’ beauty is frozen with a thin metal ‘skin’ on its entire surface. Insects such as dragonflies, beetles and scorpions aren’t spared either – they too are killed and converted into jewellery and other items.

In 2022 BWC received an e-mail from a naïve person asking for support to “ethically source butterfly wings from beautiful creatures that have passed away from natural reasons” in order to encase them in resin and “feel honoured to keep these beautiful insects alive forever”.

We replied her in no uncertain terms that even if she claimed to use butterflies that had died naturally, the fact remained that she could never ever be sure; over and above which there was no doubt that she was indirectly encouraging cruelty and killing of countless beautiful lives. We asked her to think deeply, give up the idea of entombing butterfly carcasses and choose to do some thing that is actually ethical and truly kind that in no way exploits any creature in life and after death.

We were therefore thrilled to receive her immediate response saying that it was a perspective that she had not previously thought about and that she would stick to flowers and artificial elements.

Page last updated on 25/11/23