Are Framed Butterflies Cruel?

by Becky

March 20, 2021

Collecting and framing butterflies peaked in the summers just before World War I. At the time, these pinned beauties were a staple sold in auctions.

The recently extinct English race of Large Copper butterflies once sold for £200. This would come to $32 978.34 if it were sold today. But how much damage do we do, every time we pin a dead butterfly into a frame? 

The act of framing butterflies is not cruel, as long as the creature is deceased before this process. Killing a butterfly purely to frame it is unnecessary and wrong as their average lifespan is only two weeks. Ultimately, the argument lies around the ethics of taxidermy and displaying a deceased creature.

Read on to learn more about whether framing butterflies is cruel, the process of framing a butterfly, and some of the more subjective arguments against this practice.

Is Butterfly Framing Cruel?

Butterflies are some of the most beautiful creatures of the natural world. These insects are incredibly dainty, fragile, and fleeting. You rarely have the chance to appreciate their full beauty in detail before they flutter away.

It’s arguably the main reason why these whimsical insects are subjected to a delicate and detailed preservation process so they can be framed and displayed in homes, offices, and museums.

It might seem cruel to see such an elegant and innocent creature pinned to a whiteboard on a wall. However, in actuality, framing a butterfly is not cruel as long as it is done properly and respectfully.

Meaning the creature was caught safely and not for the sole purpose of framing it.

It is undoubtedly cruel to pin and frame a live butterfly. It is not the proper way to frame a butterfly because once it dies, it will decompose since it hasn’t been preserved. It is also a form of cruelty as it shows disrespect treatment of a living creature.

Scientifically, entomologists have stated that butterflies do not feel pain because their nervous system do not have pain receptors. However, pain is not the only indicator of cruelty.

Inappropriately catching and framing a butterfly can be cruel just by their treatment alone, especially if they are injured or starved in the process. All that being said, if a butterfly is deceased, it is not cruel to frame it.

How Are Butterflies Framed

Framed butterflies closeup

Any misconceptions around the cruelty of framing butterflies comes from a lack of understanding how the process is performed.

To clear things up, we share the steps entomologists and collectors take to frame butterflies in the most cruelty-free process necessary below.

Steps for Framing Butterflies

  1. 1
    Choose your deceased butterfly for framing. You could potentially find one deceased outside in a park or your garden. Or you can order the type of butterfly you want to collect and raise it until it dies. The objective is to not kill a butterfly solely for framing.
  2. 2
    Acquire the necessary equipment, size 2 insect pins, a cube of Styrofoam (size just needs to be larger than your butterfly), wax or paper (large enough to encase the wings for protection), a pair of forceps, paper towels, a plastic container, wire mesh, antiseptic, a display frame.
  3. 3
    Create a reanimation chamber for your butterfly using the plastic container and a lightly dampened paper towel. If your butterfly is recently deceased – you don’t need this chamber.
  4. 4
    Place the damp paper towel at the bottom of the container, then drip a few drops of antiseptic onto the paper towel.
  5. 5
    Place some wire mesh on top of the paper towel, then place the butterfly on top of the wire mesh using forceps.
  6. 6
    Close the chamber tightly and let the butterfly sit for 24+ hours until it has relaxed or reanimated (the wings or easy to move without risk of breaking or crumbling).
  7. 7
    Cover your Styrofoam with wax paper and pin it in the corners for stability.
  8. 8
    Remove your butterfly from the reanimation chamber using your forceps and place it in the middle of the covered Styrofoam.
  9. 9
    Place one pin on each side of the butterfly’s abdomen and then one on each side of its thorax. This will help keep the butterfly in place when you move the wings.
  10. 10
    Use your pins to gently push the butterfly wings into the desired position, then cover the wings with parchment paper (do this and the next step one wing at a time).
  11. 11
    Place numerous pins through the parchment paper around the butterfly wing.
  12. 12
    Place two pins between the antennae and push them outwards to create a V shape with the antennae.
  13. 13
    Leave the butterfly to dry for 48- 144 hours until it holds this position without support.
  14. 14
    Remove all of the pins and paper from the butterfly after it has dried.
  15. 15
    Frame the butterfly in a display option like a specimen drawer, a wrecker mount, or a shadow box. Most can be mounted by placing a pin directly through the butterfly’s thorax.
  16. 16
    Display the butterfly in a cool, dry location, that has limited light to prevent fading, and is safe from pets or pests.

Is It Cruel to Mount and Display Butterflies?

Butterflies in frame

When looking at a framed butterfly, individuals commonly take issue with this practice and consider it cruel, not so much because of the deceased butterfly pinned to the frame, but because it is done purely for display.

Framing a butterfly is comparable to taxidermy in certain ways, which many find unnecessary and cruel. The central argument here is that these animals rarely die of natural causes and are often killed purely for the sake of decoration.

In the world of taxidermy, most animals are killed for sport, food, or intended for decoration. But for the most part, butterflies used for framing die of natural causes before they are prepared for display. Their lives are not shortened prematurely for this reason.

Apart from the fact that these creatures may or may not have died prematurely for human convenience, another argument against butterfly framing and taxidermy is that it is disrespectful to the animal.

This is a highly controversial topic with subjective stances. On the one hand, you are putting a deceased insect on display, but on the other hand, no harm is being inflicted on the animal because it is already dead.

This is also not a new practice ­­– humans have displayed parts of deceased creatures for thousands of years. A famous example is the Sedlec Ossuary. This small Roman Catholic chapel displays an estimated 40,000 and 70,000 human bones in elaborate and decorative furnishings.

These include garlands, chandeliers, pillars, and more, all made of the bones of people that once lived.

Those who deem taxidermy and butterfly framing to be cruel and unethical would most likely hold this view for something like the Sedlec Ossuary. Yet, this chapel is one of the most visited tourist attractions of the Czech Republic with over 200,000 visitors annually.

Humanity as a species has always been fascinated with death, from its horrors to its eerie beauty. This fascination has led to the preservation of life in any manner possible, as seen by the human, animal, and insect examples we’ve discussed.

We can safely say that these practices are not cruel since the people or animals cannot feel anything after they are deceased. However, whether these practices are ethical is ultimately a matter of opinion.

Final Thoughts

The process of framing a butterfly is not cruel as long as the insect is deceased before its framing and was not killed purely for this purpose.

One could argue that if framing a butterfly is not cruel, it is at least unethical and unnecessary to display a once-living creature’s corpse.

The consensus on this argument is ultimately subjective. Therefore, it is up to the individual to determine how they feel about displaying these creatures that were beautiful in life and now eternally preserved in death.

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