Commercial Selling of Butterflies

Sheri Moreau webmistress at
Sat Jul 4 18:39:52 EDT 1998

pverhag at (Peter VerHage) wrote: 
I am currently working at the Chicago Field Museum on an outdoor butterfly
exhibit.  As a guide, I have been asked many times about the environmental
problems associated with buying and releasing butterflies at weddings, and
other parties.  Our current position is that only Monarchs and Painted
Ladies should be bought since all other species would be released into gene
pools that are not their own, potentially damaging the entire population.
However as I have done a short survey of the internet I have noticed that
there are quite a few sites selling many different species of butterflies.
This raises a few questions for me.  One, what butterflies are legal to
sell commercially?  If it is more than just the migratory species, what is
the reasoning behind the laws?  And has there been any effort to change
these laws in favor of higher restrictions on the selling of butterflies?
These questions are very important to me since I am potentially doing my
senior thesis on this subject.  So I would appreciate receiving as much and
as detailed information as is possible.  THank you in advance for any help
you could give.

Peter, your concerns are commendable, but as Semjase said, there are
already existing regulations on transhipment of all Lepidoptera species,
with more restrictions under review by the USDA. 

All Lepidoptera are classified by the USDA as plant pests, since in their
larval stage they eat plants (with a few exceptions). This applies even
when the plant being consumed is classified as a "noxious weed." Legally,
no one can ship living ovae, larvae, pupae or adults of any Lepidoptera
species across state lines without first obtaining a permit. Crossing
international boundaries, the regs are even tougher. In California, the
RECIPIENT is also supposed to have a permit. A state official in Sacramento
informed me some months back that I could not legally sell caterpillars to
a home-school child, for example, unless they first had received a permit
from the state. Considering how many Painted Lady larvae are sold each year
in this state by Insect Lore (Shafter, CA), this regulation boggles the
mind, and is unenforceable--and unenforced. Children don't even need
fishing licenses in this state!!

Currently, for butterfly release purposes, commercial butterfly farmers
must receive a separate permit for EACH STATE they intend to ship
butterflies to. The permit request form (PPQ-526) is sent to the state dept
of ag by the breeder. It includes a list of proposed species to be released
in that state. The state dept of ag signs off on it, approving or
disapproving each species and appending comments. They then forward it to
the USDA for final approval and assignment of a permit number.  The USDA
may override a state ag officer recommendation. The whole process takes
6-10 weeks, generally. The only 3 species which are routinely granted
without a quibble are Painted Ladies, Red Admirals and Mourning Cloaks, all
of which are basically found throughout North America. Monarchs are divided
geographically: Western Monarchs cannot be shipped east of the Continental
Divide, and vice versa. Status of permits can be easily verified via the
Internet for any individual or company on the USDA Aphis website

In the past year (since Hans Schnauber's ill-conceived plan to release
thousands of Monarchs on 4 July 1997--the same time frame as the annual
butterfly count, sigh), considerable attention has been focused by state
and fed authorities and noted Lepidoptera scholars on commercial butterfly
farmers. While there may be a few breeders still flagrantly violating the
regs, the USDA IS investigating allegations of such violations, and I would
not be surprised to see those breeders facing fines in the near future.

Regarding the number of commercial butterfly farmers now on the Internet,
remember that ANYONE can throw up a webpage and say they are selling
something. That doesn't mean they actually are producing in any significant
numbers, or that they will still be in existence in the next 6 months.
Rearing large numbers of healthy butterflies successfully is hard work: in
my experience, at least half of the people who set themselves up as
butterfly breeders have gone out of business in extremely short order,
often leaving disgruntled and unhappy customers stranded. A major-city
Arboretum was shafted for an order of 800 Monarchs last autumn, for
example, which they had planned for their grand opening day. The "butterfly
breeder" with whom they had contracted was not a breeder at all, as it
turned out. He had planned to CAPTURE 800 Monarchs on their southward
migration thru Texas. The migration was late, and he came up empty-handed,
two days before the scheduled event.

As with any industry, it is incumbent on the buyer to protect themselves,
and to ask pertinent questions: permits, shipping method, reputation of
proprietor, length of time in business, references, etc. When buying living
creatures, be they salt water aquarium fish, or horses, or carp, or Atticus
atlas pupae from Indonesia, one must be especially careful. There are many
responsible, conscientious dog breeders--and then there are the puppy mills
of Kansas/Oklahoma. Where do you want YOUR puppy to come from? (The
impossibility of ensuring the method of living creature acquisition from a
distance when an industry deliberately sets out to obscure same is why I no
longer have salt water aquaria, or feed my cat tuna fish, by the by...)
(I'm a vegetarian, my cat is not!)

Hope this helps--you did say you wanted "detailed information"!!

Sheri <webmistress at> 
Carmel, California

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