10 Fascinating Facts About Butterflies

10 Fascinating Facts About Butterflies

These butterfly facts will make you say ‘Wow!’

ThoughtCo / Hilary Allison

  • B.A., Political Science, Rutgers University

People love watching colorful butterflies float from flower to flower. But from the tiniest blues to the largest swallowtails, how much do you really know about these insects? Here are 10 butterfly facts you’ll find fascinating.

Butterfly Wings Are Transparent

How can that be? We know butterflies as perhaps the most colorful, vibrant insects around! Well, a butterfly’s wings are covered by thousands of tiny scales, and these scales reflect light in different colors. But underneath all of those scales, a butterfly wing is actually formed by layers of chitin—the same protein that makes up an insect’s exoskeleton. These layers are so thin you can see right through them. As a butterfly ages, scales fall off the wings, leaving spots of transparency where the chitin layer is exposed.

Butterflies Taste With Their Feet

Butterflies have taste receptors on their feet to help them find their host plants and locate food. A female butterfly lands on different plants, drumming the leaves with her feet until the plant releases its juices. Spines on the back of her legs have chemoreceptors that detect the right match of plant chemicals. When she identifies the right plant, she lays her eggs. A butterfly of any biological sex will also step on its food, using organs that sense dissolved sugars to taste food sources like fermenting fruit.

Butterflies Live on an All-Liquid Diet

Speaking of butterflies eating, adult butterflies can only feed on liquids—usually nectar. Their mouthparts are modified to enable them to drink, but they can’t chew solids. A proboscis, which functions as a drinking straw, stays curled up under the butterfly’s chin until it finds a source of nectar or other liquid nutrition. The long, tubular structure then unfurls and sips up a meal. A few species of butterflies feed on sap, and some even resort to sipping from carrion. No matter the meal, they suck it up a straw.

A Butterfly Must Assemble Its Own Proboscis—Quickly

A butterfly that can’t drink nectar is doomed. One of its first jobs as an adult butterfly is to assemble its mouthparts. When a new adult emerges from the pupal case or chrysalis, its mouth is in two pieces. Using palpi located adjacent to the proboscis, the butterfly begins working the two parts together to form a single, tubular proboscis. You may see a newly emerged butterfly curling and uncurling the proboscis over and over, testing it out.

Butterflies Drink From Mud Puddles

A butterfly cannot live on sugar alone; it needs minerals, too. To supplement its diet of nectar, a butterfly will occasionally sip from mud puddles, which are rich in minerals and salts. This behavior, called puddling, occurs more often in male butterflies, which incorporate the minerals into their sperm. These nutrients are then transferred to the female during mating and help improve the viability of her eggs.

Butterflies Can’t Fly If They’re Cold

Butterflies need an ideal body temperature of about 85 degrees Fahrenheit to fly.   Since they’re cold-blooded animals, they can’t regulate their own body temperatures. As a result, the surrounding air temperature has a big impact on their ability to function. If the air temperature falls below 55 degrees Fahrenheit, butterflies are rendered immobile—unable to flee from predators or feed.  

When air temperatures range between 82 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit, butterflies can fly with ease.   Cooler days require a butterfly to warm up its flight muscles, either by shivering or basking in the sun.

A Newly Emerged Butterfly Can’t Fly

Inside the chrysalis, a developing butterfly waits to emerge with its wings collapsed around its body. When it finally breaks free of the pupal case, it greets the world with tiny, shriveled wings. The butterfly must immediately pump body fluid through its wing veins to expand them. Once its wings reach their full size, the butterfly must rest for a few hours to allow its body to dry and harden before it can take its first flight.

Butterflies Often Live Just a Few Weeks

Once it emerges from its chrysalis as an adult, a butterfly has only two to four short weeks to live, in most cases. During that time, it focuses all its energy on two tasks: eating and mating. Some of the smallest butterflies, the blues, may only survive a few days. However, butterflies that overwinter as adults, like monarchs and mourning cloaks, can live as long as nine months.

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Butterflies Are Nearsighted but Can See Colors

Within about 10–12 feet, butterfly eyesight is quite good.   Anything beyond that distance gets a little blurry, though.

Despite that, butterflies can see not just some of the colors that we can see, but also a range of ultraviolet colors that are invisible to the human eye. The butterflies themselves may even have ultraviolet markings on their wings to help them identify one another and locate potential mates. Flowers, too, display ultraviolet markings that act as traffic signals to incoming pollinators like butterflies.

Butterflies Employ Tricks to Avoid Being Eaten

Butterflies rank pretty low on the food chain, with lots of hungry predators happy to make a meal of them. Therefore, they need some defense mechanisms. Some butterflies fold their wings to blend into the background, using camouflage to render themselves all but invisible to predators. Others try the opposite strategy, wearing vibrant colors and patterns that boldly announce their presence. Bright colored insects often pack a toxic punch if eaten, so predators learn to avoid them.

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Butterfly Zorka: photos, types and lifestyle

Building a Community of Responsible Butterfly Enthusiasts in Britain & Ireland

Festoons, Apollos & Swallowtails

Browns, Fritillaries & Aristocrats

Coppers, Hairstreaks & Blues

This new article by Peter Andrews documents the history of the Large Copper in Britain. In doing so, it provides unpublished information from the journals and correspondence of J.C. Dale and also provides an account of the discovery of the batavus subspecies in Holland and its introduction to Britain.

This video is the third in a series of episodes produced for UK Butterflies TV, each looking at the autecology of the different species of butterflies found within the British Isles. The series also aims to interview those individuals who have made significant contributions to the conservation of each British butterfly species, in an attempt to capture, for posterity, their stories told in their own words.

This presentation is the ‘extended edition’ of a presentation describing the Life Cycles of British & Irish Butterflies, which has been delivered at several events, and was due to be delivered several times more in 2020.

This presentation was originally prepared for the UK Butterfly Recorders’ Meeting in March 2020, but which was cancelled due to the coronavirus. The presentation asserts that there is much we can do in terms of recording immature stages, and that this data can be used to ultimately inform conservation efforts.

From the publisher: This beautifully illustrated field guide covers caterpillars of the moth and butterfly species that are most likely to be encountered in the British Isles. The comprehensive introduction covers how to study caterpillars and provides a window into their diverse natural histories, while the species accounts cover status, field characters, similar species, habitat, foodplant and field notes, and are accompanied with up-to-date distribution maps. Click here to read the review.

From the publisher: This book presents a readable account of butterfly behaviour, based on field observations, great photographs and the latest research. The main focus is on courtship and mating — including perching, searching and territorial behaviour. There have been exciting discoveries in all of these fields in recent years, including: butterfly vision, wing patterns, wing colouration, mating strategies and female choice. Click here to read the review by Harry E. Clarke.

Vince Massimo’s latest study on the immature stages of the Painted Lady is now available here.

From the publisher: This book is a complete guide to the butterflies of the Villars-Gryon region in the Alpes Vaudoises of Switzerland. All species known to occur in the area are presented with full-colour photographs and descriptions, enabling even a beginner to identify every butterfly encountered. A visual index guides the reader to the relevant pages and a fully illustrated checklist extends the book’s coverage to the whole of Switzerland. Click here to read the review.

Congratulations to Mark Searle, overall winner in the 2019 UK Butterflies Annual Photography Competition! With a superb photo of a pair of Common Blues, Mark wins a signed copy of Life Cycles of British & Irish Butterflies which has been kindly donated by Nature Bureau. Click here to see all of the winning entries.

From the publisher: This concise guide is a companion to the ‘Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland’ by the same expert authors, but is in a condensed form with artwork opposite the species descriptions and lay-flat binding for ease of use in the field. Featuring more than 1,700 superbly detailed colour artworks and covering nearly 900 species, this portable guide is an essential addition to every moth-lover’s field kit. Click here to read the review.

From the publisher: Around 25 million moth records from Butterfly Conservation’s National Moth Recording Scheme and Moths Ireland have been combined to produce this landmark publication — the first ever atlas of all macro-moths in Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. The atlas includes accounts for 866 macro-moth species, each with a distribution map showing current and historical occurrences, trends, status, a phenology chart and colour image. Click here to read the review.

From the publisher: This new and expanded edition, the most complete guide to insects ever published, now has 544 pages and covers over 2300 species with updated maps & over 2900 colour photographs throughout, with fully comprehensive sections on all insect groups, including beetles (108 pages), flies (100 pages), ants, bees & wasps (86 pages). Click here to read the review.

From the publisher: With detailed descriptions and photos of the adult, egg, caterpillar and chrysalis of each species, this book provides unique insights into a hidden world, illustrated with over 1,300 high-quality colour photos that reveal the subtle beauty in something as small as a butterfly egg. Butterflies are infinitely fascinating. What may start as a simple hobby of photographing the adult insects can evolve into a deep interest in their immature stages, ecology and conservation and this book will help light your way. Click here to read the review by Michael Blencowe.

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Monarch Butterfly Facts, Pictures & Video: Find Out About The Lifestyle & World-Famous Migration Of This Incredible Insect!

Monarch butterfly facts, pictures & information. The monarch butterfly’s annual migration is said to be one of the nature’s greatest spectacles …

Monarch Butterfly Facts At A Glance

  • Other Name(s): Monarch, milkweed, common tiger, wanderer, black veined brown
  • Scientific name:Danaus plexippus
  • Type of Animal:Insect
  • Animal Family: Nymphalidae
  • Where Found: North and South America; parts of Asia, Africa and Europe
  • Wingspan: 9 to 10.2 cm (3.5 to 4.0 in)
  • Conservation Status: Currently unassessed by the IUCN
  • Other interesting monarch butterfly facts: The monarch’s flight speed is around 9 km/h (5.5 mph).

Free Monarch Butterfly Coloring & Fact Sheet

Click here or on the image below to download your free coloring & facts sheet. Scroll down to discover more about the monarch butterfly.

Free monarch butterfly coloring & facts sheet. Click image to download.

Meet The Monarch Butterfly: Introduction

The monarch butterfly is a large butterfly famous for its incredible annual migration, which is considered by many to be one of the most spectacular natural phenomena in the world.

During the fall, millions of North American monarch butterflies migrate south to overwintering sites in California and Mexico, many covering distances of over 3,000 miles (4,831 km). (You’ll find out more about monarch butterfly migration further down the page.)

The monarch butterfly is a member of the Danainae butterfly subfamily. Butterflies in this subfamily are otherwise known as milkweed butterflies after the plants on which they feed as caterpillars.

The milkweed butterflies are a subfamily of the family Nymphalidae. Nymphalidae is the largest butterfly family, with over 6,000 species. Members of this family only use four of their six legs. Their forelegs, which are smaller, are kept curled up against the body.

There are 6 subspecies (types) of monarch butterfly. They vary slightly in appearance and / or behavior; not all monarch butterflies are migratory.

The video below contains amazing images of the entire monarch butterfly life cycle …

What Does The Monarch Butterfly Look Like?

Both sides of the monarch butterfly’s wings are orange with black veins. The thick black border around the outer edges of the wings is speckled with white spots, and there are a few orange spots near the tips of the forewings.

The underside of the wings is similar to the top but with yellow-brown tips and larger white spots.

Male monarchs have a black spot at the center of the upper side of each of their hind wings. The veins are narrower than those of the female. Male monarchs also tend to be larger in size.

Male monarch butterflies can be distinguished from females by the black spots on the hind wings. This butterfly is feeding on a milkweed plant.

A rare grayish-white color variation, known as the ‘white monarch’ accounts for around 1% of the global population. In Oahu, Hawaii, however, around one in every ten monarchs are ‘white monarchs’.

Migratory monarchs tend to have larger and more angular wings than their non-migratory counterparts.

The monarch caterpillar is pale green and translucent when it first emerges. In later stages it develops an increasingly complex pattern of black, white and yellow bands. At each end of its body is a pair of antenna-like black tentacles.

Monarch butterfly caterpillar

The chrysalis of the monarch is blue-green with small yellow spots.

Distribution

Most of the world’s monarch butterflies are found in the United States, Southern Canada, Central America and northern South America.

The species also occurs in the Caribbean, Hawaii, Bermuda, Cook Islands, the Solomon Islands, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, the Azores, Mauritius, the Canary Islands, Gibraltar and parts of North Africa and southern Europe.

Monarch Butterfly Habitat

In the summer and warmer months of spring and fall, monarchs are found in breeding areas where milkweeds are abundant, such as agricultural fields, pastures and gardens.

Monarchs found in colder regions overwinter in areas with a dense cover of trees. This provides some protection from storms and also prevent the temperature from dropping too low.

Overwintering sites used by migratory monarchs in Mexico are found in high altitude conifer forests. In coastal California monarchs overwinter in conifer or eucalyptus groves.

Monarch Butterfly Migration

In the spring (usually around mid-March to mid-May, depending on location), monarch butterflies make their way north from overwintering sites located in the southern United States and Central America.

In the late-summer / fall (mid-August to October), the butterflies begin the return journey south from their feeding / breeding grounds, which are located throughout the United States and southern Canada.

Monarchs that breed in eastern North America overwinter in central Mexico. Those that breed west of the Rocky Mountains overwinter in coastal California.

No single monarch butterfly will make the entire round trip. The springtime, northward part of the migration is split between as many as five generations of butterfly, each of which has a maximum lifespan of only around 4 weeks.

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Travelling northwards from Mexico, the first generation of monarch butterflies may only get as far as Texas or Oklahoma. Here the butterflies will breed, and the next generation will continue the migration. This process continues as the butterflies progress north.

The journey finished by a monarch butterfly arriving in the northern United States may have been started in Mexico by its great-great-grandparents!

The real record-breakers are the monarch butterflies that migrate south. These butterflies may travel over 3,000 miles (4,831 km). The longest journeys made by individual monarch butterflies are thought to be around 4830 miles (7,778 km). The monarchs that make the southward migration are sometimes known as the ‘super generation’.

Not only are they larger in size and weight than their northward-traveling relatives, the super generation also lives longer – with a lifespan of up to 8 months. The wings of southwards-migrating monarchs are a darker orange than those of their northwards-migrating counterparts.

During the southbound migration the butterflies can travel around 50 miles (80 km) in a day, and reach altitudes of up to a mile.

Monarchs only migrate in the day, and are unable to fly if it is too windy or rainy.

The butterflies start arriving at their overwintering sites around late October, with the last monarchs arriving around December.

The overwintering monarchs cluster in trees and stop feeding until early spring, living off of fat reserves in their bodies. They begin breeding in spring.

Not all monarch butterflies migrate; those that don’t include subspecies found in the southeastern United States, the Caribbean and parts of Central / South America.

Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle

Monarch courtship begins with the male chasing the female in the air. Mating takes place on the ground. The male monarch transfers a spermatophore (a capsule containing sperm and nutrients) to the female. Both sexes usually mate more than once.

The female finds a milkweed plant and lays her cream or light green oval-shaped eggs on the underside of a young leaf. A single female can lay up to 1180 eggs.

The eggs hatch in around 4 days. The larval (caterpillar) phase has several distinct stages and lasts about 2 weeks. The caterpillars rapidly increase in size, and molt (shed their skin) 5 times.

At the end of the larval period, the caterpillar attaches itself upside down to a horizontal surface and forms a chrysalis. The adult butterfly emerges in 9 to 15 days.

What Do Monarch Butterflies Eat?

In its larval (caterpillar) stage, the monarch feeds on milkweeds (flowering plants in the genus Asclepias).

Adult monarchs feed on the nectar of a wide range of flowers. The butterflies also obtain water and some minerals from damp soil and gravel.

Monarch Butterfly Predators

The adult monarch butterfly’s body contains toxins from the milkweed plants on which it fed as a caterpillar. Both caterpillars and adult butterflies advertise their toxicity to potential predators with their bright and contrasting colors. The use of warning coloration to deter predators is known as Aposematism.

Despite the toxins, the butterflies are preyed upon by a number of birds, including brown thrashers, American robins and several species of grackle, crow, cardinal and oriole.

Mice will also eat monarch butterflies. The black-eared mouse Peromyscus melanotis, which is able to withstand a high amount of the toxins found in a monarch’s body, is a significant predator of butterflies overwintering in Mexico.

Monarch eggs, larvae and pupae may be attacked by invertebrates such as spiders, wasps and ants.

Around 14% of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico are eaten by mice and birds.

Is The Monarch Butterfly Endangered?

The monarch butterfly is currently unassessed by the IUCN, but the global population of the species appears to be stable.

However, large declines have been observed in the population of migratory Northern American monarchs. These declines are mostly due to habitat loss.

Shrinking forest cover in Mexico (due to logging as well as agricultural and urban development) have reduced the size of suitable overwintering sites.

Milkweed plants in monarch breeding grounds in the United States have been affected by the increased use of herbicides.

How To Help Save The Monarch Butterfly

A number of schemes aimed at reversing the decline in the North American population of Monarch butterflies are in operation.

One such scheme is the Monarch Joint Venture, a national partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, businesses and academic programs working together to conserve the monarch butterfly migration.

Monarch Butterfly Facts: Related Articles

  • Become an animal expert with our complete guide to the animal kingdom: Animals: The Ultimate Guide
  • Explore the amazing world of insects: Insects: The Ultimate Guide
  • Find out how scientists classify animals into different groups: Animal Classification
  • Discover amazing animals from all around the world: A to Z Animals

1 thought on “Monarch Butterfly Facts, Pictures & Video: Find Out About The Lifestyle & World-Famous Migration Of This Incredible Insect!”

Excellent information! Thank you!!

Simone Hébert Allard
Author of Manitoba Butterflies: A Field Guide

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