To Fly or Not to Fly: The Butterfly Debate

As Sting might say, if you love something, set it free.

That's a philosophy more and more wedding participants seem to believe in. Instead of tossing handfuls of rice like their parents and grandparents did, they're releasing live butterflies airborne streams of living color  to celebrate their loved one's union.

Butterflies have become so popular that some people refer to them as the "new rice."

But some say butterfly releasing should go the way of barbaric wedding traditions we've long left behind, like the droit du seigneur or arranged marriages.

"Farm-raised butterflies are ticking time bombs you release in the wild," the North American Butterfly Association's Jeffrey Glassberg said.

While they're certainly pretty to look at, commercially bred butterflies can spread disease to the local animal population, inhibit the insects' migrating and interfere with scientists trying to collect data on the local flora and fauna, he said.

As it stands now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has set a cap on the number of butterflies a person can transport across state lines, and requires a permit for those who do.

"They carry diseases that potentially can devastate native populations of butterflies that are critical," Glassberg said.

And that's not even looking at it from the point of view of the butterflies.

"It's treating living animals as if they were nothing but little toys," he said.

But not all butterfly experts agree. If anything, butterfly releases help butterflies, according to Jay McRoberts, a member of the International Butterfly Breeders Association. He said releasing the insects at special events sparks passion for the little lepidoptera.

"To me, the butterfly is the ambassador of goodwill," he said.

He and other breeders also said that if a commercially bred butterfly is carrying a dangerous disease, it would die before it got off the farm. But ultimately, McRoberts said, it's just not right to forbid an act of beauty simply because of unproven fears.

"I'm not open to people saying you have to stop releasing butterflies because we think something might happen," McRoberts said.

For now, some revelers will continue to release butterflies at special events. And probably as long as butterflies have wings, the controversy will continue.

Fox News' Collins Spencer contributed to this report.