Butterfly Facts



  • Butterflies are insects with four large wings that feed either on the nectar of flowers or on fruit.
  • Together with moths, butterflies make up the scientific order Lepidoptera – the word means ‘scaly wings’. There are more than 165,000 species of Lepidoptera – 20,000 butterflies and 145,000 moths.
  • Many butterflies are brightly coloured and fly by day. They have slim, hairless bodies and club-shaped antennae (feelers).
  • The biggest butterfly is the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing of New Guinea, with 25 cm-wide wings. The smallest is the Western pygmy blue.
  • Butterflies can only fly if their wing muscles are warm. To warm up, they bask in the sun so their wings soak up energy like solar panels.
  • The monarch butterfly is such a strong flier it can cross the Atlantic Ocean (see migration).
  • The shimmering blue wings of the South American morpho butterfly are very beautiful – in the 19th century millions of the butterflies were caught and made into brooches.
  • Most female butterflies live only a few days, so they have to mate and lay eggs quickly. Most males court them with elaborate flying displays.
  • Butterflies taste with their tarsi (feet). Females ‘stamp’ on leaves to see if they are ripe enough for egg laying.
  • Every butterfly’s caterpillar has its own chosen food plants – different from the flowers the adult feeds on.
  • Every species of butterfly has its own wing pattern, just like humans have their own fingerprint.
  • Butterflies fly like no other insects, flapping their wings like birds.