How Long Do Butterflies Live?

Butterflies are one of the most popular insects that people love to watch. But did you know that those beautiful moments are very brief for butterflies? So how long do butterflies live?

Butterflies can live from 1 month to 1 year old. Their life span will vary depending on the species, with tropical species surviving longer. The average life span of an adult butterfly is 2-4 weeks. To survive longer butterflies need the right diet, habitat, and general health.

Butterflies are great to have around. Not only are they mesmerizing to watch, but they are also extremely beneficial to the environment.

Learning the life cycle of a butterfly may help you understand what challenges they are up against to survive. This guide will take you through all that you need to know.

Let’s jump in.

How long do butterflies live?

The statistically average life expectancy of an adult butterfly is around 1 month. Yet some species can survive up to one year. That means that some butterflies can live 12 times longer than others.

The reason there is such a huge variation is due to the life factors the butterflies face. This includes food availability, climate, predators, and even the species.

It’s important to realize that other sources often base the life span of a butterfly on its adult phase. Yet, butterflies go through a few life stages before they reach adulthood. This is normally around 3-4 weeks before they emerge as an adult.

Butterfly life cycle stages

Each stage of the butterfly’s life cycle can present different challenges to its survival. Let’s look at each stage.

Eggs

Female butterflies lay clutches of 10-100 eggs per day. That adds up to around 300-400 eggs in their short time as an adult. Of these hundreds laid, only around 8-10 will survive.

The eggs are vulnerable once they are laid as they have no protection. The butterflies don’t return to care for the eggs, and predators will use them for food.

The females try to ensure the survival of the eggs by laying the eggs out of sight. They also use host plants that the caterpillars can feed on once the eggs hatch.

Larvae

After around 3-6 days the butterfly eggs hatch into larvae. Butterfly larvae are more commonly known as caterpillars.

The job of the caterpillar is to eat as much as possible to grow quickly. As caterpillars can move around they are much easier for predators, such as birds, to see.

After 2 weeks of non-stop eating the caterpillars are ready to move to the next life stage.

Pupae

Once the caterpillars are large enough they will attach themselves to a leaf and create a cocoon. They will stay in this place until they transform into their adult form inside the cocoon.

Staying still means the butterflies are again vulnerable to predators as they can’t move to protect themselves.

This stage of the butterflies’ life cycle takes around 1-3weeks.

Adults

Once Adult butterflies emerge they are vulnerable. They are a completely different form and now move about by flying rather than crawling. Learning how to navigate this new means of movement puts them at risk due to their inexperience.

Although once they’ve mastered flying, it gives them greater protection against predators. Now they can fly away to physically protect themselves.

Butterflies will then find a mate and lay eggs, and the whole cycle starts again. Males die soon after mating and female soon after all their eggs are laid. This process can take a few weeks to months depending on the species.

How do butterflies die?

Butterflies can be vulnerable at different stages in their life. The reality is that the conditions they encounter will impact their ability to survive. Some butterflies are lucky enough to avoid some of these issues, which allows them to survive longer.

Let’s look at what factors can cause a butterfly to die.

1. Food availability

Butterflies are amazing insects that need a lot of food to survive. Both the caterpillars and adult butterflies need a lot of plants to eat.

The adult butterflies eat mostly nectar, but surprisingly they eat a variety of foods which you can read about in this guide to the butterfly’s diet.

The problem is that a lot of other animals are competing for the same food as the butterflies including bees, hummingbirds, and birds.

If there are fewer flowers available, this impacts how much a butterfly can eat. Fewer flowers grow each year due to farming practices, and modern landscaping in urban yards.

Hungry butterflies are unable to have enough energy to fly and find more food, find mates or flee predators.

2. Predators

Butterflies are insects which puts them at the lower end of the food chain. In other words, they make tasty food for larger animals. Predators are one of the biggest threats to the butterflies’ survival in the wild.

Common predators of Butterflies include:

  • Birds
  • Spiders
  • Wasps
  • Frogs
  • Ants
  • Lizards
  • Toads
  • Rats

Most butterflies will die before they reach the adult life stage. That’s because they are unable to fly away from nearby predators.

Caterpillars are big and juicy for a lot of predators to eat and provide them with a rich source of protein and water.

Depending on the species the caterpillar adopts color for protection. Green coloring can keep them camouflaged.

Another tactic is using colors such as yellow, black, and red to warn off predators. These colors make them believe they may be poisonous.

Adult butterflies can fly to escape some predators. But, birds are still a problem for them.

One way adult butterflies ward off predators is their wing colors and patterns. You’ll notice butterflies often have large black circles on their wings. This can fool predators into thinking they are owl eyes.

Again bright coloring on their wings gives out a signal that the butterflies may be poisonous. Other butterflies may take on more of a camouflage coloring to blend into their surroundings for protection.

3. Disease and parasites

The general health of a butterfly will have a big impact on how long they live. Disease and parasites are the biggest threat to their health that can lead to illness or death.

Common diseases and parasites that affect butterflies are:

  • Lepidopteran disease
  • Braconid wasps
  • Tachinid flies
  • Baculovirus
  • Ophyrocytis elektroscirrha

The egg and pupa stages are often when a lot of parasites will invade the butterfly’s body, as they are immobile during these phases.

Butterflies can live with certain parasites, mites, and viruses as their host. Yet, they will shorten their life by taking vital nutrients away from them.

Parasites and diseases will usually kill the butterflies at some point to continue their own life cycle.

4. Injury

As delicate flying insects, butterflies are an easy target for life-threatening injuries. An injured butterfly is unlikely to be able to fly to find food or flee from nearby predators.

Humans play a large role in the injury of butterflies. The growing use of pesticides is a massive problem for butterfly populations. A butterfly that comes into contact with pesticides will be poisoned quickly by the strong toxic chemicals.

Gardeners and farmers use pesticides to keep away harmful bugs. Yet, beneficial pollinators like butterflies are also killed off.

Another common injury to butterflies is the use of insect traps or glues. They become easily entangled by these trapping devices and die from starvation or injury.

Butterflies can sustain natural injuries in the wild too. Commonly they can break wings or legs when they are fleeing from predators. They’re also easily caught up in spider webs, unable to escape.

5. Climate

Butterflies are insects which means they are endothermic and take heat from their environment. If the environment is too cold then the butterfly cannot move, or may even die.

In the winter most butterfly species will migrate to warmer climates to survive. The heat means they can move around and source plants that are plentiful in these climates.

A butterfly that has gone into a dormant state during cold weather is vulnerable. It will likely be eaten by hungry predators.

Humidity is another huge factor that affects the butterfly’s life cycle. If there is not enough humidity a butterfly will be dehydrated, especially in the pupae stage.

High winds and heavy rains can also be dangerous for butterflies. There is an increased risk of injury during these weather conditions.

6. Species

The species of butterfly will have a large impact on its survival rate for various reasons.

Size is a big factor in the longevity of a butterfly. Larger butterfly species tend to live longer than smaller ones. It’s simple biology as the smaller butterflies have a faster metabolism that wears out quicker.

The species will also dictate factors such as the climates that the butterflies live in. Some butterflies will migrate thousands of miles which puts a bigger physical strain on them than those that don’t travel too far.

Yet, species that don’t migrate risk having low food supplies and poor weather conditions, depending on where they are in the world.

The general habitat may also be more of a threat in certain areas. Humans can destroy the butterfly’s habitat of a particular species. They may also be more likely to fall victim to extreme weather such as hurricanes or storms.

Let’s look at the life span of some common butterfly species.

Average Life Span of Butterfly Species

Butterfly SpeciesAverage Egg StageAverage Larvae stageAverage Pupae stageAverage Adult StageTotal Lifespan
Monarch3-5 days2 weeks1-2 weeks2-6 weeks1-2 months
Red Admiral7 days3 weeks1 week10-11 months12-13 months
Black Swallowtail4-9 days2-4 weeks2-3 weeks2-6 weeks2-4 months
Painted Lady3-5 days2-3 weeks10 days2-3 weeks1 – 2 months
Blue Morpho7-14 days8 weeks2 weeks2-3 weeks3 – 4 months
American Copper9-12 days3 weeks2 weeks2-3 weeks2-3 months
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail3-5 days3-4 weeks1-3 weeks1-2 weeks1-2 months
Mourning Cloak10 days2-3 weeks2 weeks10-11 months12-13 months
Viceroy6-8 days3-4 weeks1-2 weeks3-4 weeks2-3 months
Common Buckeye4-14 days2-4 weeks1-2 weeks1-3 weeks2-3 months  
Question Mark4-14 days3-4 weeks1-3 weeks1-3 weeks1-3 months

How to help butterflies live longer

Butterflies don’t have a long lifespan, but the benefits they have in such a short time are amazing. The good news is that there are ways that you can try to maximize their life and also minimize your impact on them.

Let’s look a 5 ways you can help butterflies to live longer.

1. Plant lots of flowers

The best way to help butterflies is to provide them with lots of flowers and plants. These will not only provide lots of nectar for the adult butterflies. But also places for them to lay their eggs.

Nectar-producing plants are a sure-fire way to attract butterflies. Yet plenty of foliage from hedges and trees can be used for shelter in bad weather.

If you don’t have space to plant a lot of flowers you can use window boxes. Or keep a small wild area full of weeds, long grasses, and wildflowers. You can also learn how to make and offer up butterfly nectar in your yard.

2. Don’t use pesticide

If you’re a keen gardener you probably know that pests are the bane of your life. They’ll kill off all your prized plants overnight if given the chance. So using pesticides seems like a great way to keep them at bay.

The problem is that insecticides kill off beneficial insects; like butterflies too. They are poisoned by the chemicals just like the nuisance insects.

Pesticides are also really harmful to other animals such as birds. The best natural method of pest control is to encourage birds to visit your yard as well as insects such as ladybugs.

3. Offer food

Offering flowers is a great way to provide butterflies with food, yet they have quite a varied diet. In fact, butterflies love to eat overripe fruits.

If you have fruit trees in your yard, try to leave a pile of overripe fruit out for the butterflies. They like it best when it’s starting to rot and go mushy.

I’d recommend placing the fruit onto raised platform feeder as you may attract nuisance animals to your yard, such as raccoons or rodents.

4. Provide shelter

Shelter can be vital for butterflies especially in poor weather such as rain or heavy winds.

An ideal shelter is a strong rocky crevice, trees, or thick foliage. Having these are part of your landscaping will help the butterflies.

You may have seen man-made butterfly shelters in the form of a bug hotel (this one is a bestseller). They can be a bit of a hit or miss with butterflies, but it may be worth a try.

Other forms of shelter that a butterfly needs are places to hide during the pupae stage or to overwinter. This means they need shelter to keep hidden from predations.

Old plant stems and leaf litter are ideal for butterflies. Try not to tidy up the natural mess created by plants overwinter until the temperature start to rise above 50°F (10°C). Its likely butterflies will remain sheltering during this time and accidentally killed as you clean up.

5. Don’t use traps

Although traps may seem like an ideal solution to get rid of flying insects, they are often lethal to butterflies.

To avoid causing injury to butterflies don’t use any type of sticky tapes or glues to trap insects outdoors.

How long do butterflies live in captivity?

Butterflies that are kept in captivity may live longer on average. Yet this will still depend on the natural age of the species.

Its estimated captive butterflies can live for around 6 months. That’s because they are much better protected than they would be in the wild.

Captive butterflies don’t need to worry about predators, parasites, or lack of food. They also have much less chance of suffering a severe injury.

As these are all common factors that kill butterflies, the chance of them dying early is a lot less. But, the natural age of the butterfly species will always rule over all these protective factors. Once the butterfly reaches that natural age, no matter how well they are kept, they will die of natural causes.

Final Thoughts

You’ll see that there is a difference in how long some butterflies species can live. Yet most will live between 1 month and 1 year. These are estimates through observation and the natural life cycle of the butterfly.

There are various factors that will have an impact on butterflies. This includes food availability, climate, predators, parasite, and human interference.

Butterflies are resilient creatures and adapt as best as they can to help the species to survive. There are a few ways you can play your part in their survival by supporting butterflies to thrive in your yard.

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