Butterfly Basics: How long does a butterfly live?

In my job I tend to get asked the same questions on a daily basis.  Probably the most common question I am asked is in reference to the life span of an adult butterfly.

Of course, each species of butterfly is going to be a little different, but there are some general rules regarding how long butterflies live.  For the typical butterfly that you may run in to over the course of your day, that life span will be in the neighborhood of three to four weeks.  Basically long enough to find a mate and lay eggs.

There are some exceptions to this however.  For example, butterflies in Ohio who overwinter as adults will live more in the range of six to seven months.  Some examples of these butterflies include Eastern Comma, Mourning Cloak, and Red Admiral.  The Monarch also falls into this category.  Yes, the Monarch migrates but it also overwinters (albeit in Mexico) as an adult.  

 Red Admiral

Red Admiral

These overwintering adults are in a state of diapause, meaning that they put certain normal behaviors on hold, which results in saved energy and therefore a longer life.  As example, the monarch puts reproductive interests on hold, and instead of using that energy on reproduction, they use it on flying to Mexico.  Red Admirals spend most of the winter hidden away from the weather, saving energy by not being on the wing.

In the tropics, some butterflies are pollen feeders rather than nectar or fruit feeders.  These pollen feeders will have a higher concentration of protein in their diet and consequently will live longer, sometimes several months, than the butterflies who rely on carbohydrates.

In a future blog I will disclose the entire life span of a butterfly, from egg to adult.

 Postman, a tropical species feeding on pollen.

Postman, a tropical species feeding on pollen.