Originally created 05/26/98

Butterflies take off at weddings



Wedding season is once again upon us, bringing love, joy and those charming little touches for the big day. The latest trend at the romantic, environmentally correct marriage ceremony is the live butterfly display. As the bride and groom walk down the aisle after the ceremony, guests release butterflies to create a fluttering, picture-perfect moment.

"It's fabulous," says Janet Wells, wedding consultant at the Vintage Bride in Clarksburg, Md. "What I like to say is, `Butterfly kisses to the new mister and missus.' "

There's just one problem: Sometimes the butterflies are ... well, dead, which puts a damper on the celebration.

"Forget it," says wedding planner Rita Bloom of Creative Parties in Bethesda, Md. "I would never do it again."

Why butterflies? Throwing rice is out because it's bad for birds, says Marc McIntosh, producer of the Washington Bridal Showcase. Birdseed was popular until people started slipping and it became a "liability issue." Balloons' deflated remains are not good for the environment. And everybody's doing those little bottles of soap bubbles or disposable cameras at the reception.

The butterfly boom began about three years ago and is especially popular at outdoor weddings, says Casie Shockton of Butterfly Celebration in Shafter, Calif. More and more brides-to-be are surfing the Internet and discovering the wedding butterflies online.

Most companies pack the butterflies individually in small triangular boxes with air holes. The insects arrive in chrysalid form and are timed to hatch inside the boxes two to three days before the wedding. Some deliver butterflies that have already hatched to ensure a greater survival rate. At the ceremony, each guest is handed a box with instructions to open it at a specific time.

Like everything else associated with weddings, they are expensive, averaging $3 to $4 apiece for 100 monarch or painted lady butterflies. "It isn't for everybody, but it's a very special effect," says Michele Momper of Brides & Butterflies in Adamsburg, Pa.

"It's expensive, but the photography is priceless," says Wells, who supervised 10 butterfly weddings over the past year.

The key is preparing the butterflies properly. "You have to raise them, basically," says Wells. "You have to be very delicate." Wells has the butterflies shipped to her shop where she can control the air temperature. The night before the wedding, she peeks inside every box to make sure there is a little creature moving about.

At the ceremony, Wells likes to gather the guests in a circle with the bride and groom in the middle. The butterflies are released, flutter around the circle, and everybody gasps in admiration.

"It sounds romantic, but it's a real downer when the butterflies are dead," says Bloom.

Bloom planned two weddings featuring butterflies last year: The first went off without a hitch, but that bride's family hired a butterfly handler.

At the second wedding, the 150 guests each received a butterfly box; at least half were definitely not fluttering. "It was unpleasant," says Bloom.

"I've had several brides ask me since, but I discourage it," she says. "Even when it works, I don't want you to talk about the butterflies. I want you to talk about the bride. And from a planner's point of view, I can't risk things that I have absolutely no control over. It's too scary. I don't want to disappoint anybody."