Is it Legal to Buy or Import Birdwing Butterflies?

Is it Legal to Buy Birdwing Butterflies?

Ornithoptera are some of the most collectible (and protected) insects on Earth, but can they be purchased legally? The short answer is ‘yes’…the long answer is ‘it depends’...

Because Little Caterpillar is a United States company we will base our answer off of that.  The U.S. has some of the toughest import laws in the world, and importing any insects can be tricky...let alone CITES protected birdwings.

For a little basic info, ALL birdwings are CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) protected...whether it is genus Ornithoptera, Trogonoptera, or Troides, they are ALL protected.  From a seller’s standpoint, it is still legal to sell them, but ONLY farm-raised specimens that came from a permitted CITES facility. NO wild birdwings of any species can be sold.

And (for the most part), this is good news...the species in the wild are protected, and captive bred specimens allow collectors to still be able to have these incredible butterflies.  Now, it is slightly more complicated than that, with many arguing that allowing wild caught specimens to be sold (in an ethical, well-regulated market with strict quotas) would encourage the preservation or birdwing habitat (because more habitat means more butterflies that could be sold), thereby increasing overall population numbers, but we won’t go into that now….

So, can birdwings be legally bought by someone living in the U.S.?  Well, there are three different answers…

  • Are you buying from an overseas seller and trying to import the birdwing into the U.S.?  Unfortunately, this is the number one way that birdwings are illegally caught, bought, and sold.  A quick search on eBay will reveal dozens of sellers from Russia, Thailand, and other countries selling an incredible variety of birdwings at (generally) very low prices.  Most promise to include a CITES permit with the sale.

If you buy a birdwing from an international seller on eBay for private use and do nothing else, THIS IS ILLEGAL.  To be in compliance with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service laws you must declare the specimens to the appropriate port of entry, have it inspected through customs, and provide all necessary permits and fees.  Because so many sellers on eBay use fake or photocopied CITES permit, U.S.F.W.S. recommends providing a copy of the CITES permit for them to inspect before even completing the sale.

So, can I legally import birdwings into the U.S. for private use? Yes, but you HAVE to have the needed permits and notify U.S.F.W.S. so the specimen can be inspected.

While some of these foreign eBay sellers are honest, many are selling either illegal wild-caught birdwings or birdwings raised in a non-CITES permitted facility, forging CITES permits, and duping U.S. buyers into a sale because of the cheaper price.

  • Can I import birdwings for commercial purposes? Yes, but you will need to meet all the above requirements plus additional licenses and fees. 


  • Can I buy birdwings from U.S. sellers? Yes! This is by far the easiest way to legally buy a birdwing for your collection.  Any reputable U.S. seller will have already jumped through the legal hoops and nothing more is needed once the specimen is in the U.S.  You do not need a CITES permit to display it in your collection or to ship it across state lines.

We love birdwings.  We think they are some of the most captivating species on the planet.  That is why we believe it is worth the extra work to buy and sell only legal, CITES-permitted specimens and not cut corners to save a few bucks.  Check out our collection of permitted, CITES-legal birdwings for sale here.

Note: We are not lawyers and do not give legal advice.  If you want to import birdwings get it touch with the U.S.F.W.S. to get exact requirements.  Also, some species of birdwings, such as Ornithoptera alexandrea will have additional requirements regarding the sale and transfer.

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