How long do butterflies live? And other butterfly facts

Blue butterfly
Butterflies come in all sorts of bright and beautiful colours (Photo: WTML)

The weather’s warming up, so keep your eyes peeled for hosts of gorgeous, shimmering butterflies on the wing. Here we answer some of the most common butterfly questions, so you can impress your friends and family with these butterfly facts.

How long do butterflies live?

It depends on the type of butterfly – it can be anything from a few days to several months. Of course, a butterfly spends time at other stages of its life cycle too, such as the caterpillar and pupa. You can read more about this in our butterfly life cycle blog.

What do butterflies eat?

They don’t really eat at all. They mostly get their food by drinking nectar, a sugary liquid produced by flowers.

How do butterflies eat?

Peacock butterfly feeding
Butterflies suck up nectar with their proboscis (Photo:

Well, they suck nectar up through their proboscis (a long narrow tube a bit like a straw). And, by the way, they taste through sensors on their feet, not with their mouths!

When they’re feeding, butterflies often get pollen on their feet too and then transfer this to other plants. This helps fertilise them so they can make seeds and produce more plants. It’s called pollination.

How do butterflies fly?

They use muscles on their bodies to move their wings. But the muscles won’t work if the butterfly is too cold – that’s why they like to sit and soak up the sun.

What are butterfly wings made of?

Their wings are made up of tiny scales. Each scale is red, yellow, black or white. Other butterfly colours are made by light refracting (reflecting off the scales in different ways).

Butterfly colours are a form of camouflage to help them blend in when they’re feeding from plants. They also help them attract a mate and can be a warning to predators too.

Can a butterfly still fly if I touch its wings?

Small tortoiseshell butterfly with damaged wings
Butterfly wings are very delicate (Photo:

Yes, you’ll just rub off a few scales but this happens naturally anyway. However, if a butterfly loses a lot of scales its wings become more fragile and might get torn. Then it will be harder for it to fly.

As with other delicate creatures, it’s best to look but not touch.

How do butterflies breathe?

Butterflies don’t have noses. Instead, they breathe through openings on their tummies called spiracles.

What’s the fastest butterfly?

Skippers are the world’s fastest butterflies. They can zip between blooms at a super speedy 60km per hour!

Why not attract butterflies to your garden by making a butterfly feeder? Our butterfly spotter sheet will help you tell your painted lady from your peacock too!

Have you managed to get a picture of a beautiful butterfly? Make sure you post it on our Facebook page, or on Instagram or Twitter using #NatureDetectives.

Do you have a favourite butterfly?

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