Butterfly Facts

Butterflies play an important role in pollinating the plants, flowers and vegetables that we need on the earth. There are so many types of butterflies and many have unique ways of surviving.

Butterfly Facts for Kids

  • Butterflies are insects
  • Butterflies flap their wings about five times every second.
  • Butterflies taste their food with their front feet.
  • There are about 17,500 different species of butterflies.
  • During the winter some butterflies like to hyphenate. They will hide in safe places like under leaves, in caves and even inside your home.
  • Unfortunately, some species of butterfly are endangered, and some have already become extinct.
  • In America the monarch butterfly migrates 1800 miles every fall to the warmer climates of California and Mexico.
  • Butterflies have many different sizes and colors. The smallest butterfly is only about 1/8 of an inch whereas the largest butterfly is nearly 12 inches.
  • Butterflies are insects and are born as a crawling ‘caterpillar’.
  • There are four lifecycle parts to a butterfly: egg, larva (known as a caterpillar), pupa (known as a chrysalis and adult (known as a butterfly).
  • Butterflies have the ability to see the colors green, red and yellow. This is useful for them when finding flowers.
  • A majority of butterflies actually eat the nectar inside of flowers.
  • Butterflies, like many insects have their skeletons on the outside of their body. This is called ‘exoskeleton’ and protects their inner bodies so the moisture doesn’t dry out.
  • When you look at a butterfly you might think it has only two wings, but it actually has four wings.
  • The wing of a butterfly is very colorful. The wings are actually made up of very tiny scales.
  • The highest speed of a butterfly is twelve miles per hour.
  • Only one species of butterfly flies in the same manner as a bird: the Birdwing butterfly
  • Temperature is important to a butterfly as they do not have the ability to fly if their body temperature reduces below 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

What do butterflies eat?

The caterpillar of the butterfly will only eat plant leaves from certain kind of plants because they need the vitamins and minerals from these plants to grow into a butterfly. Most butterflies that are adult butterflies will drink nectar from flowers that they live by.

A butterfly will use their long tongue like a straw, called a proboscis, and they will suck up the nectar with their tongue. Butterflies will also drink water and liquids from fruit, especially fruit that is rotting and soft. Other butterflies will get their food from tree sap, dead and rotting animal matter or other organic material that is found in the wild. Butterflies live mostly on liquid because it would be hard for a butterfly to suck up solids with their tongue.

Butterflies in different countries will eat from different types of nectar plants and will often times go from plant to plant depending on the pH and any changes that they detect in the soil. Some of the nectar plants include:

  • Coumbine
  • Hall’s lomatium
  • Milkweed
  • Orange
  • Honeysuckle
  • Joe-Pye Weed
  • Butterfly Bush
  • Clover
  • Zinnia
  • Milkweed
  • Daisy
  • Dung
  • Buddleia
  • Pentas
  • Hibiscus
  • Puddles
  • Dandelion
  • Mud

How long do butterflies live?

The average lifespan of a butterfly is usually around 1 month while the smaller butterflies generally live around one week. The Monarch butterfly is the only butterfly that has a lifespan of around nine months. No butterfly can live for more than a year.

There are different factors that depend on how long a butterfly will live such as what type of butterfly it is, where it lives and what time of year the butterfly became an adult. Most smaller butterflies will not live as long and the larger butterflies tend to live longer, even though this is not always the fact.

The climate matters to how long a butterfly will live because butterflies are cold-blooded and when the weather gets cold, butterflies will die faster than if they are born or live in the warmer weather. Most butterflies will migrate south when the weather starts to get cooler and that means that they could live for months and months past their regular life-span, depending on the stage of life that they are in when winter comes.

Another thing that depends on how long a butterfly will live is the predators that they live by. A butterfly has many predators such as birds and other insects so this can make a dramatic difference on how long a butterfly will live in the wild.

How do butterflies sleep?

Butterflies do not actually sleep, they do what is called quiescent. This means that they rest but quiescence is not the same as how people or animals sleep. When the weather is cool or if the weather is cloudy, butterflies will rest with their eyes open and since they do not have eyelids, their eyes do not close when they are resting.

Most butterflies will become quiescent when it is night and cool and they will hide in the bushes or the flowers and hang upside down from twigs in trees or from leaves that hang from trees. Most butterflies will rest hanging upside down because they have tarsi which are like claws that help them to grip the leaves or twigs. Resting upside down requires the least amount of energy that a butterfly can use because a butterfly uses a lot more energy standing up right.

When butterflies rest under leaves, they do this so that they can be protected from the dew or rain that falls at night and because the leaves will help to hide them from early morning predators that are lurking around the area looking for something to eat.

Some butterflies that are bright yellow, orange and black do not need as much protection when they sleep because these colors are warning signs to their predators that they might be poisonous to eat, therefore, they will rest more in the open and hang from a small twig or stick to rest.

Many butterflies need heat in order to have energy to move and fly around and so when they rest at night they allow the nectar of the plants to build up and they use this rest in order to help them to digest the food that they had that day. Since they are not technically asleep though, they can fly off without any energy if they become disturbed. Butterflies often times rest in groups or in pairs and this rest is similar to hibernating.

How do butterflies get water?

When a butterfly eats, they need to have enough salt and minerals in order to live, fly and reproduce. A butterfly will use their proboscis, or their tongue, in order to suck water and other liquids into their bodies. They do this in order to consume the sugar and minerals so that they can have the energy that they need and the nutrients in order to survive.

You will often times see butterflies in standing water drinking the water that has absorbed minerals from the soil that is underneath it. This type of drinking is called puddling. Puddling happens many times a day for a butterfly and butterflies will often times go from puddle to puddle in order to disturb the water and get the minerals to go to the top.

If a butterfly does not see a water source, the butterfly will sometimes regurgitate its food on top of the soil and then drink it again in order to try to get the minerals that the soil has to offer it.

Therefore, butterflies do not drink the water to get the water, they drink the water to get the minerals and salt from the water and if they cannot find water, they will go to urine, tears, sweat, blood, dung or other sources for the minerals.

Why do butterflies like flowers?

Butterflies like flowers for many reasons. They like flowers because they are able to land on them when they travel long distances. They also land on flowers in order to get nectar from the flower to give them energy.

Even though butterflies are not as big of pollinators as bees, they still will have pollen that sticks to their feet when they perch on the flowers and this makes them effective at pollinating other flowers.

Butterflies can see more colors than other butterflies and they love red flowers because red is one of their favorite colors and other colors they love are blue, and white. Some of their favorite flowers include: Salvias, Firebush, Sweet Almond, Fiddlewood, Queen’s Wreath and more.

Butterflies are most attracted to flowers that are pink, purple, red, orange, white and yellow and the blue or green flowers seem to attract the least number of butterflies.

Butterflies also love to land on flowers that are short and have narrow tubes and have strong smells. Even if they do not have a bright color that the butterfly likes, they will pick these flowers over other flowers because they have the most nectar.

Peacock Butterfly

How do butterflies get their colors?

Butterflies get their colors from two different sources, the ordinary color which is the pigmented color and from the structural color. The ordinary or pigmented color is from the chemical pigments that absorb the light and the wavelengths.

This soaks up the different color spectrum of red and blue but it does not soak up green. When a butterfly is brown or yellow, it is basically like a human’s freckles that come from melanin. Structural colors is when depending on how the butterfly is made will depend on the colors that will seem to be so bright on a butterfly. When people see these colors, they are known as iridescence and there are many animals that we see this in, but butterflies are the most vibrant of most other animals.

When the light passes through the layers of the butterfly, the colors are reflected and the colors become intense. This means that not all of the butterfly’s colors are created from their pigment, some of the colors are actually just light that is scattering around and making the colors look brighter and more vibrant. When the pigment and the light is reflected, it can cause the butterflies colors to merge and make it where you see different colors when the butterfly flies.

Butterflies have the most beautiful colors that nature has to offer. Not only are their colors vibrant, they can be seen high above while they are flying. The importance of a butterfly’s colors are that they can act as a camouflage to protect the butterfly from predators, the colors attract mates and they can be a warning signal for animals to leave them alone.

Blue Morpho

Why do butterflies migrate?

Butterflies, such as Monarch butterflies and other butterflies migrate toward places that are warmer, mainly because they are cold blooded creatures and they need to move where the weather is warmer so that they can live longer.

They will also migrate when the food source changes location because they need to be where there are flowers so that they can have food to give them energy. If a butterfly is somewhere that the winter takes the flowers away, the butterfly will starve to death if they do not migrate.

Monarch butterflies, along with other species of butterflies, cannot survive most of the winters in the United States and so they will move toward the south to places that are warmer and that have food sources even when winter comes.

Places such as Mexico and California are places where many butterflies hibernate to and they will generally end up in the same place that the other butterflies migrated to and will eat nectar from the same trees that the butterflies the year before ate from.

Monarch butterflies are the only animal that will move 2,500 miles away each year in order to survive the climate. When winter comes, butterflies cannot give birth to larval because there are no plants that grow and so they must migrate back to the north where there are many of these types of plants so that they can start their lifecycle again.

Other butterfly species that migrate include: Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Cloudless Sulphur, Mourning Cloak, Fiery Skipper, Clouded Skipper, Question Mark and Sachem, to name a few.

How do butterflies get their food?

Butterflies move from flower to flower in the garden so that they can get food. They use their proboscis to put into the flower and suck out the nectar with their straw like tongue. The proboscis goes out from the front of the butterflies head and when it is finished drinking, it will roll the proboscis back up like a coil. The proboscis is long and goes deep inside the flower in order to drink the nectar, water, dung or the juice from fruit. Some butterflies never see flowers and spend their time eating rotting animal matter, organic material, raw fruit and tree sap.

The nectar is a high-calorie food that gives the butterfly the nutrients that it needs in order to fly, reproduce and survive. The butterfly will go from flower to flower in order to get as much of the nectar that it can get. Having the nectar can help a butterfly to live longer than expected if it is getting the nutrients that it is needed and if it is hidden from its predators.

A caterpillar will only eat plants and plant matter from leaves and they do this by crawling a round and collecting the seeds that they can get. Some species will eat seeds and seed pods but most of them destroy the plant by eating it in order to be able to turn into a butterfly.

How do butterflies defend themselves?

Many butterflies use two methods of defending themselves, their color, which is a warning and toxic tastes. Many of these butterflies are toxic when they are eaten and if the predator digests these butterflies they become very sick or die. Once the predator learns the color scheme of the butterfly, they will learn that the colors are dangerous to mess with and will leave them alone.

Some butterflies use what are called eye spots to protect themselves from predators. These eye spots are located on the wings either underneath them, on top of them or both sides of them. These spots are located on all the wings, the front and the back wings. When a predator approaches the butterfly, they will show the spots and it causes the predator to sometimes depart and leave the butterfly alone.

Some butterflies have tiny eye spots on the edges of their wings and when the predator attacks, they are attracted to the eye spots and the butterfly can still fly away with just small amounts of damage. One type of butterfly, the Swallowtail butterfly has antenna and eyes on the eye spots and when the predator goes to attack, they don’t know which way the butterfly is going to move and so they can get away from their attacker.

Other butterflies can protect themselves because they leave a bad taste in their predators mouth and others are poisonous if put in the predator’s mouth. Most of the butterflies that are poisonous have a certain color pattern and so the predator will learn to leave these types of butterflies alone.

Monarch butterflies are orange and black and they are poisonous to their predators. Most predators that live after eating a Monarch butterfly learn not to eat things that are black and orange anymore.

One type of butterfly lays their eggs on nettle leaves as a way of defending themselves. They lay them even on the stinging part so that predators do not mess with the eggs. They use the nettle leaves as places to feed and stay and this gives them protection both day and night.

Camouflage is another way that butterflies are protected. They use their colors to blend in with certain flowers and trees. The butterflies are then protected from the predators by being able to be hidden from them.

Monarch Butterflies for kids

Monarch Butterfly

 

Monarch butterflies have one of the longest journeys of any butterfly and travel from the Northern Great Lakes area of the United States and Canada all the way to the Gulf of Mexico (about 1,800 miles). The journey can’t be accomplished in one generation, so along the way they lay eggs which hatch and then once the next generation becomes a butterfly, they continue.

Scientists are concerned about the Monarch butterfly as their numbers are decreasing more and more each year. It is believed that so much of the land that used to be wild and filled with their favorite food, the milkweed, has been replaced with farmlands and towns.

Many people in the United States have started planting ‘butterfly gardens’ and included the milkweed plant to help the Monarch butterfly. They are using plants purchased from natural growers because the big box and chain stores add chemicals to the plants to keep away all insects, including butterflies.

  • Butterflies lay eggs on trees and branches that are glued with a special kind of adhesive that they make in their bodies.
  • Once a caterpillar has eaten and eaten, it attaches itself to a strong branch or plant with a kind of hook that is part of its body, it then sheds its outer skin and the inner skin hardens until it becomes a kind of protective shell. It is at this time that a butterfly is called a chrysalis. It then undergoes what is called a ‘metamorphosis’, in which inside the shell it changes its body from the caterpillar into a butterfly.
  • Once a butterfly emerges, it will let its wings dry and fill with blood before it tries to take flight.
  • Butterflies are found on every continent of the world except Antarctica.
  • The butterfly species is one of the greatest species of insects, with about 24,000.
  • Images of butterflies have been found as far back as 3,500 years in ancient Egypt.
  • The longest living butterfly is the Brimstone butterfly. It can live up to nine or ten months.
  • Some species of butterflies actually have the ability to ‘taste’ with their feet. They use this trait to tell whether the leaf will be good food for the caterpillars that will hatch from the eggs that they lay.