How to Safely Transport or Ship Butterflies

Whether moving butterflies from your home to a school or whether shipping them from your home to a friend on the other side of your state, it is important that they are transported safely.

Let us share with you the safest method to package them for transportation. We have transported hundreds of thousands of butterflies, from short distances in our car, to transporting them to Canada or California via UPS or FedEx. Safely packaging them is essential.

(Remember, it is illegal to transport butterflies or moths across state lines without a permit.)

Although our hearts want them loose in a box, it is not the safest way to transport them, any more than it is the safest way to transport our children. Both little children and butterflies are safest transported in car seats. There are two reasons for butterflies to be in their ‘car seats’.

First, butterflies tend to fly toward the light. If they are going on a short trip and their container is bright, they will try to fly to the light and tatter their wings. Even for a short 30 minute car ride, we pack butterflies into their car seats. ONLY if they are being packed into a no-light-admitted box for a mass release, should they be packed directly into the box and the box should should be placed in a cool ice chest if possible. The emphasis is NO light admitted to the box. If they are being packed for UPS, FedEx, or USPS transport, we recommend car seats (glassine or paper envelopes – read further for envelope packing directions). Remember – they can heat up and die quickly. The box should not be left in the sun even for a few minutes UNLESS the box is packed into another box with ice packs.

Second, when boxes are handled by UPS, FedEx, and USPS employees, they will be handled a little roughly. Believe me, you don’t want to pay for transportation by a company that pays its employees to handle every package gently. The cost of shipping would skyrocket. We must pack our butterflies with the knowledge that employees have no clue that living creatures are inside the box. They assume that the box holds non-living items. To keep the cost of shipping as low as possible, employees are not allowed time to read all the labels on each box. Several large FRAGILE stickers may alert the handlers to be gentle with the box. Most employees expect the shipper to pack the box to withstand normal shipping conditions, which include underhand (and sometimes overhand) tossing of packages. Does that worry you? It shouldn’t. Butterflies live through big storms. They can live through some rough handling by shipping companies IF you pack them properly. Don’t underestimate our little friends. Pack them properly and they’ll ‘snooze’ until they arrive at their destination.

What do you need?
*1. Insulated box
*2. Ice packs
3. Envelopes (most of us use glassine – like wax paper, but regular paper works well)
4. Sturdy box

Butterflies should be placed in envelopes with wings folded in their natural position behind their backs. This is how they sit at night, in the dark: inactive and safe. This is how they sit during the winter, in the cold trees in Mexico. This is their natural resting position. In Mexico, night temperatures are often in the 30′s, much lower than in the insulated shipping box.

Envelopes should be packed in a sturdy cardboard box, empty space filled with tissue or paper. They shouldn’t be packed tightly but they can be packed closely. Remember how they are so close together in Mexico? They will have plenty of oxygen for a couple of days in the box. Promise! Although the shipping box will be moved about, we want their little envelopes held secure in the box. The envelopes are the equivalent of a car seat. The envelopes shouldn’t be loose in the box.

The box is to be placed in the insulated box with ice packs or frozen juice. DO NOT use frozen water or juice in Ziploc or plastic bags. Ice has sharp edges, will cut the bags, and as it melts will leak into the box. When juice melts in the juice box or container, it will be contained. If the envelopes become wet, it will kill your butterflies. The best item to use is a type of synthetic ‘ice’. When it melts, it does not leak. These can often be found in a store with camping supplies or lunch supplies.

When the box is packed, all items should be secure. The ice pack and the box with butterflies should be secure. If the ice pack isn’t secure, it could move and crush the box with butterflies in it. The contents should be so secure that if the box is dropped upside down, butterflies inside will not be harmed. During internships that we teach at our farm, we pack a box as if butterflies are inside and slam it hard, upside-down on the floor. We open the box to show that nothing inside could have harmed butterflies if they had been inside.

If you are nervous, pack the box first with empty envelopes. Slam it upside down on your floor. Open it and check the contents. If everything isn’t secure in the box, repack it again a bit more securely. Continue until you are comfortable with your packing skills. These little creatures are important to all of us. When you are comfortable with how the envelopes are packed, pack your butterflies for shipment.

The outer packing box should be certified. A weak cardboard box isn’t advised. During transportation, boxes are often stacked on top of each other. These certificates indicate that the box is certified to withstand a certain amount of pressure. A weak cardboard box may give and butterflies could be crushed. Look for the seal before you pack your butterflies. The seal shown on this page is the one on the boxes we use. Out of the thousands of boxes we have shipped, we have had only two damaged enough to harm butterflies inside the box.

We recommend about 24 ounces of ice pack for a box about 8″ x 8″x 10″. In the early spring or later fall, or when temperatures are cooler, fewer ounces are needed.

IMPORTANT – the price of shipping depends upon the weight/size of your box. The smaller your box, the better. Instead of stating that butterflies are in the box, we recommend stating that the contents are perishable. One carrier wanted to take special care of the box of butterflies and kept them on his dash. The box overheated and the butterflies died. Although we know not to keep it on the dashboard, the caring deliveryman didn’t realize it could harm the butterflies. His caring concern actually killed the contents of the package.

Ship the butterflies for NEXT DAY arrival. Yes, they may be fine if they arrive in two days or three days. But they may not be fine. Survival rate is nearly 100% if they are shipped with an ice pack and arrive the day after they are shipped.

This may sound complicated but it isn’t. We’re just trying to cover all the bases, all the ‘maybe’ and ‘could’ disasters for you. It’s simple when you pack in a box to ship: 1) they need to be in their ‘car seats’, 2) need to be cool, and 3) need to arrive the same or next day.

*1. You can often obtain used insulated boxes and ice packs from a vet’s office. Medications are often shipped in these boxes and they’re glad to give them away. Reuse!
*2. Instead of ice packs, you can simply freeze a child’s juice box, such a juicy juice or CapriSun.