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What is the butterfly release at a funeral?

What is the butterfly release at a funeral?

A butterfly release at a funeral is a symbolic gesture to honor the life of the deceased. It involves releasing live butterflies during the funeral service as a visual representation of the soul being set free. This practice has become increasingly popular over the last couple of decades as more people look for meaningful ways to personalize funeral services. Releasing butterflies can provide comfort and hope for grieving friends and family members.

History and Origins

The origins of butterfly releases at funerals can be traced back centuries to various cultures around the world. In many societies, butterflies have long been viewed as symbols of transformation, change, hope, and life. The Greeks and Romans associated butterflies with psyche or the soul. This symbolism stems from the butterfly’s metamorphosis, emerging from a dark cocoon into a beautiful winged insect.

In Mexican culture, monarch butterflies represent the returning souls of deceased loved ones. The Aztecs believed butterflies represented the souls of deceased warriors. In China, butterflies stand for longevity, resurrection, and immortality. Across many Native American tribes, butterflies signify renewal and transformation.

In more recent history, commercial butterfly releases took off in the 1980s and 1990s in the United States. They were popularized by companies breeding butterflies en masse to sell for events like weddings, funerals, and memorial services. While the practice remains controversial among conservation groups, it continues today as a way to add symbolic meaning to life’s milestones.

Butterfly Species Used

The type of butterflies used will depend on their regional availability from butterfly breeders and suppliers. Some commonly used species include:

Butterfly Significance
Monarch The most popular choice due to its large size, bright orange wings, and cultural symbolism of the soul in Mexican traditions.
Painted Lady Widespread availability and vibrant mix of orange, black, and white on the wings.
Red Admiral Deep orange bands on the wings make a vivid visual display.
Swallowtails Large, colorful butterflies like yellow swallowtails represent hope.
Mourning Cloak Their black wings lined with yellow make them fitting for somber occasions.

The list above shows some top choices, but many species and local varieties can be used.

How It Works

Butterfly releases require coordination with a specialized breeder in advance. Most breeding facilities cater specifically to providing live butterflies for ceremonial releases. Here are some key steps in the process:

Stage Description
Ordering Butterflies are ordered from a breeder based on quantity needed and delivery date.
Delivery They are shipped in special containers to arrive the day of the release.
Storage The packaged butterflies are stored in a cool, dark place until release.
Release Boxes are opened during the service so butterflies can fly out and symbolize the soul being freed.

Butterfly breeders have specialized processes to grow large numbers of healthy butterflies that are unlikely to fly away immediately when released. The funeral director will coordinate the delivery time and release.

Symbolic Meaning

Butterfly releases offer visual symbolism and emotional meaning for grieving families and friends at funerals:

  • The butterfly emerging from darkness signifies life after death.
  • Their flight heavenward represents the soul ascending.
  • Seeing the butterflies released brings comfort, inspiration, and hope.
  • It provides a chance to say a final farewell to the deceased.
  • The butterfly life cycle reflects renewal, change, and transformation.

The ceremony can be planned to have special significance for the deceased’s life, interests, and relationships. Mourners appreciate seeing the vibrant butterflies fly free as they reflect on their loved one’s life and legacy.

Including It in Funeral Services

Butterfly releases work best when incorporated thoughtfully into the funeral or memorial service. Things to consider include:

  • Deciding the ideal time during the service for the release.
  • Picking a meaningful location like the graveside or funeral home garden.
  • Ordering enough butterflies so they are visible to all attendees.
  • Having participants release them individually or in groups.
  • Asking someone to say a few words explaining the symbolism.
  • Making sure no one is allergic to avoid reactions.

Proper handling of the packaged butterflies is vital for their health and survival. The funeral director will advise on logistics like the best time of day and weather conditions for the release.

Cost Considerations

Butterfly releases do add costs to funeral expenses. Pricing depends on factors like:

  • The number of butterflies needed.
  • Species type – some larger butterflies cost more.
  • Shipping to the location.
  • Any special handling services provided.

Expect costs between $200-$500 for releasing 50-100 butterflies, which is recommended for visibility. Larger quantities can maximize the visual impact further. Some breeders offer volume discounts. Additional costs may apply for rush shipping or weekend delivery.

Environmental Concerns

While popular, butterfly releases are controversial among some environmental advocates and conservationists. Potential issues to consider include:

  • Farmed butterflies lack genetic diversity compared to wild ones.
  • They may spread diseases to native butterfly populations.
  • Non-native species can become invasive in new ecosystems.
  • Captive-bred butterflies have a drastically lower life expectancy than wild ones, some only living days or weeks.
  • The practice supports large-scale butterfly breeding facilities which some argue are unsustainable.

Supporters claim using native species minimizes ecological risks. They also note a portion of sales aids conservation efforts. But assessing potential environmental impact is important.

Alternatives to Live Butterfly Releases

For those concerned about butterfly releases, various alternatives can provide similar symbolism:

  • Release other objects like birds, balloons, lanterns, or flower petals.
  • Create butterfly-themed funeral flowers, programs, or decorations.
  • Plant milkweed and butterfly gardens to attract wild native species.
  • Make donations to butterfly conservation groups in lieu of live releases.
  • Have participants wear butterfly wings or pins at the service.
  • Use butterfly imagery in eulogies, poems, or songs performed at the funeral.

These options allow incorporating butterfly symbolism in ways that are sustainable and environmentally friendly.


Butterfly releases offer a unique way to honor a deceased loved one by visually representing the soul taking flight. The practice brings comfort and meaning to funeral services. But thoughtful coordination is needed to execute a release smoothly. Mourners should also weigh the environmental impact and explore alternatives to live butterflies. Most importantly, a butterfly release provides a moving final tribute if planned and carried out effectively. It can transform an emotional funeral into a symbolic celebration of life.