How are butterflies packed and shipped?

Nature teaches us the best way to pack and ship butterflies. What did we observe and learn?

Gulf Fritillary butterfly roosting in the rain

#1 Gulf Fritillary butterfly roosting in the rain with closed wings

Monarch butterflies roosting in Mexico

#1 & #4 Monarch butterflies roosting in Mexico with closed wings

Zebra Longwing butterflies settled in at dusk

#2 Zebra Longwing butterflies settled in at dusk with closed wings

Monarch in a glassine envelope, in its natural resting position

#1 Monarch in a glassine envelope, in its natural resting position in its very own personal car seat

Ice packs are wrapped and placed into the shipping box

To keep butterflies cool, ice packs are wrapped and placed into the shipping box

Butterflies are packaged for delivery in sealed dark cool boxes

Butterflies are packaged for delivery in sealed dark cool boxes

Next Day Air shipping for 13 of 50 packages

#5 Next Day Air shipping was safest for 13 of 50 packages. Those packages contained butterflies. Some for exhibits, some for research facilities, some for release.

#1 – Resting: butterflies always have their wings folded behind their backs when they are not sunning or flying.

We watched to see what butterflies do when they are resting. It is darker than normal and they sit with wings folded behind their backs. If it is dark and rainy, they’ll sit that way for days, waiting for the sunshine and sometimes, for warmer temperatures.

In Mexico during the winter, migrating Monarchs rest with wings folded behind their backs for months. (Side note: months can only apply to those in diapause – migration mode. Non-migratory Monarch butterflies can go a week in cold weather without food or movement.)

#2 – Darkness: when butterflies are in the dark, they sit still, not moving.

We saw how butterflies rest in the dark. When it is dark or extremely cloudy, they sit with wings folded behind their backs.

If a butterfly manages to open its wings in an envelope and cannot close them again, they fight the position until their wing joints break. At this point they cannot fly. This struggle can be fatal. Wings closed, they are in a natural resting position.

#3 – Envelopes or fairly tight boxes: if they are cold and unable to move, they can be knocked down and cannot protect themselves

Just as we like to place our children in car seats and put on seat belts ourselves, we place butterflies in their own version of a car seat, where they cannot be harmed by being in a package that is thrown or falls and lands sharply on hard concrete. Butterflies are packaged in envelopes or tiny boxes that keep their wings folded together and keep them fairly immobile.

When they are in a box that is tossed around, bits of their wings often break, especially if another butterfly’s legs/feet can reach the wings of another. One butterfly seeking to right itself will grab at anything. As their tarsal claws grab and grasp another butterfly’s wings, bits of the wings will tear off.

Shipping company employees often toss a package from one person to another. This often knocks a butterfly loose from its perch, to the bottom of the container. As it is picked up and tossed again and travels down roads in the delivery van, it will continue to bounce about, possibly damaging wings.

#4 – Ice packs in a foam cooler/package will keep them inactive.

Cool weather will keep them naturally inactive.

In cool sunny weather, butterflies are inactive. As cold blooded insects, they cannot be active when temperatures are low.

#5 – Next Day Air means that the butterflies are in the box long enough for the ice packs to keep them cool for the trip.

Upon arrival, the box is opened and, if they are to be released that day, they are removed from the box. If they are to be released the next day, ice packs are removed and refrozen, replaced in the box, and the box is resealed until an hour before they are released.

Butterflies are removed from the box at least thirty minutes before the release. This allows them to warm up and will be able to fly when they are released.

The winning combination.

In a cool dark box, wings folded behind their backs, placed in envelopes, they are totally protected during transport.

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