Maybe there aren't that many people who put butterflies at the top of their Christmas wish list, but I've been a little obsessed with them over the past year. I'm not a collector - I don't care about perfectly mounted (and pricey) rare specimens, though I can certainly appreciate them. And I've been inspired by all of the butterfly projects I've seen on blogs and in magazines, but not inspired by the use of obviously fake butterflies.
What I wanted were butterflies I could incorporate into my personal decor but that wouldn't cost an arm and a leg. What I discovered is that it's possible. Butterfly collecting doesn't have to be pricey if you're willing to do the work of spreading their wings yourself.
There are reputable vendors online (and if it matters to you, you can email them and ask if their butterflies are ethically harvested, meaning that they're captured after they've naturally expired) and you can purchase folded butterflies housed in glassine envelopes. From there, you'll rehydrate them and spread their wings, pinning them to either a Styrofoam block or a mounting board for a couple of days. After you carefully remove them, you can glue them to twigs like I did or house them in display boxes, etc. (The one thing I would suggest is that you put them under glass. They're incredibly delicate.)
If you're squeamish like I am, it takes a little getting used to, handling the butterflies and squeezing them to open their wings. But after a couple of tries, it gets easier (see my link below for a clearly illustrated guide to wing spreading).
While you need to be gentle handling them, I didn't find them difficult to glue. I used my favorite glue, Beacon 3-in-1 adhesive and put just a dab on the back side of the body before gently placing it on the edge of a twig. The glue dries very quickly so it only took a minute or two before I was able to place the twig under the glass.
I had some left over after I'd filled my cloches, so I put a few of them in display boxes as well. I love them. Just looking at them makes me happy!
Now, if you're looking at this and thinking that you'll never in a million years spread butterfly wings yourself, there's another way you can go. I picked up this kitschy butterfly display at a thrift store for a couple of bucks and thought I'd try to take it apart. I removed the backing and found that all of the butterflies and moths were mounted to a single piece of paper. I used fine tipped scissors and cut around the butterfly bodies (so that the paper didn't show), but left the mounting paper under the body intact. I applied glue to the little sliver of paper that was left and then glued the butterflies down as desired.
So if you happen to find any amateur butterfly collections in thrift stores or antique shops, it's another option. But I wouldn't pay a great deal of money. Depending on how old the collection is, you might lose some as you work with them.
I purchased a sheet of mossy birch bark from a local florist and cut it down to size with floral scissors. I placed the bark sheet inside of this display box and glued the butterfly directly to the bark. I have it displayed on my coffee table.
I decided to camoflauge one of the moths, much as it would be in nature. It's in my display cabinet and doesn't pop the way the butterflies do, but if you take a closer look, then you see it.
Beginner Butterfly Kit (includes 5 butterflies as well)
Glass shadow boxes from West Elm
Glass cloches and bell jars can be found at multiple online stores. I also see them in discount stores such as TJ Maxx, Home Goods, and Marshalls.