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a Butterfly Resting at Night

Butterflies at Night: Where Do They Go and Do They Fly

“Are butterflies that fly at night not called moths?” Many people make this assumption. However, most butterflies are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day rather than at night. So, what happens with butterflies at night? Do they rest, sleep, or engage in some other activity?

This article explores the fascinating world of a butterfly’s nocturnal behavior. In addition, you will learn about butterfly physiology and anatomy as well as their behavior during day and night.

Butterflies at Night


The answer to the question, “Where do butterflies go at night?” is simple. They simply become less active.

Instead of sleeping like humans and mammals, these flying winged insects find a hiding place, fold up their wings, and rest from their fluttering daytime activity. And it’s no wonder they need rest—a butterfly can fly up to 100 miles daily.


To understand butterfly behavior in the daytime and nighttime, it’s vital to understand more about their physiology and adaptations.

Butterfly Physiology and Adaptations


Butterflies are insects with brightly colored wings belonging to the insect order Lepidoptera. An adult butterfly has a three-segmented body consisting of a head, thorax, and abdomen. Two pairs of wings and three pairs of legs are attached to the thorax. Additionally, butterflies have a proboscis (sucking mouthparts), compound eyes, and two antennae.


Descriptions of the three parts of a butterfly’s body:


parts of a butterfly’s bodyButterfly Head


The butterfly’s head contains two compound eyes, allowing them to see above, below, forward, and backward simultaneously. Additionally, two antennae help pick up chemicals in the air, which are vital to finding pollen, nectar, and a mate. Finally, the butterfly’s mouth-part is like a straw to feed on nectar, tree sap, and fruit juices.


Butterfly Thorax


The thorax is the middle segment of the butterfly’s body. It contains muscles responsible for movement as they control six legs and four wings—two forewings and two hindwings. One of the defensive mechanisms of butterflies is their flight patterns. Their erratic flying habits make them difficult to catch.


Butterfly Abdomen


The third section of a butterfly’s body is the abdomen, and makes up most of its body length. This cylindrical structure usually tapers at the end. The abdomen contains the insect’s major internal organs, digestive system, and reproductive system. But unlike some flying insects, butterflies do not sting.


Butterfly Wings


Butterfly wings are the most noticeable and eye-catching feature of these flying insects. The wings are little works of art, bringing a splash of color and vibrancy to gardens in summer and fall. But their wings are more than just aesthetically pleasing—they also offer butterflies great benefits when it comes to flight.


Butterfly wings are lightweight yet incredibly strong, with a unique shape that helps them fly with ease. Additionally, the intricate patterns on their wings provide camouflage from some predators. At the same time, the bright colors warn off other potential predators.


For example, some butterfly species have eye-spots on their wings to frighten would-be attackers. Other butterflies freeze and look like leaves, whereas others look like small sticks or branches. And other butterflies, like the viceroy, look like the poisonous monarch butterfly, which helps them prevent attack by predators. This type of mimicry protects the otherwise defenseless insects from becoming first place on the menu of larger insects, birds, and mammals.


Butterfly Lifecycle


Butterflies at NightThe butterfly is one of the most interesting and beautiful creatures in nature. However, the beauty of an adult butterfly greatly contrasts with how the elegant insect starts—as an egg that hatches into a creeping crawly caterpillar.  One of the most fascinating aspects of the butterfly’s life cycle is its metamorphosis from a caterpillar to an adult butterfly.


Butterflies tend to mate soon after emerging from the pupa. Depending on the species, females lay tiny eggs from late spring through summer. Usually, larvae (caterpillars) hatch two or three days later and are the size of a pinhead or grain of rice.


After hatching, a caterpillar emerges from the egg looking nothing like a butterfly. The caterpillar then gorges on vegetation and grows rapidly, molting several times before entering the pupa stage or chrysalis.


During the pupal stage, the caterpillar undergoes many changes as it transforms into an adult butterfly. Once it emerges from its chrysalis, the now-adult butterfly can fly away in search of food and a mate.


Diurnal vs Nocturnal Butterflies


Most species of butterflies are diurnal and active during the day, while nocturnal butterflies fly at night. Diurnal butterflies tend to have brighter colors and patterns on their wings to attract mates, ward off predators, and absorb heat from the sun to help them fly. Examples of diurnal butterflies include the following species:



Nocturnal butterflies are active at night. They typically have darker colors and fewer eye-spots on their wings. These features give them better camouflage in dim light conditions as they search for food sources. Interestingly, nocturnal butterflies have better hearing to help them navigate pitch darkness.


The only species of butterfly classified as nocturnal are insects in the family Hedylidae called the American moth butterfly.


Butterfly vs. Moth — What’s the difference?


Butterflies and moths belong to the same insect order Lepidoptera, and they generally feed on the same food—nectar, sugary juices, and water. However, there are notable differences between moths and butterflies.


First, moths are generally active at night, whereas most butterfly species are diurnal. Second, butterflies are larger, more slender, and more colorful. On the contrary, moths are usually mottled gray or brown and have short, stocky bodies. Third, butterflies close their wings together at rest, whereas moths spread their wings out.


Butterfly Behavior During the Day


Beautiful ButterflyButterflies are common sights from late spring through fall as they move around with a light and airy grace in meadows, gardens, and parks. You will see them landing on flowers to sip nectar or resting on structures to sunbathe. Additionally, butterflies may form large swarms as part of their mating ritual.


Their environment and the amount of sunlight they receive affect butterfly behavior. Sunlight helps butterflies keep warm and gives them the energy to fly. Scientists report that “butterflies must directly absorb the heat from sunlight to increase their thoracic temperature above that of their surroundings in order to allow autonomous flight to occur.”


On cloudy days, butterflies will opt to remain in a resting position until the sun comes out again. Temperature also affects butterfly activity levels. For example, butterflies are active when temperatures are 60°F to 108°F. However, if the air temperature drops below 55°F, they lose the power to fly. They will stand on a rock and spread their wings to try and get enough sunlight to continue flying.


Behavior of Butterflies at Night


What do butterflies do when the sun goes down? Most butterflies seek refuge from the cold night air by hiding inside crevices, shrubs, and tall grasses. You may also see butterflies at night hanging from a branch or porch of a home. Some butterflies “sleep” alone, whereas others sleep in groups for protection.


Various butterfly species also display remarkable defensive abilities to protect themselves while sleeping. Here are a few interesting facts:


  • Camouflage: The spectacular blue morpho butterfly folds its wings when “sleeping” at night.” The undersides of the wings are not blue but brown and look like a leaf. Additionally, they have a line of eye-spots to ward off predators.
  • Hiding: Most butterflies spend the night in protected places, away from bats, nocturnal birds, and other mammals on the prey for food.
  • Sleeping in groups: Another defensive mechanism is to sleep in groups. Butterflies fold their wings upward when “sleeping.” When a butterfly in a group senses danger or a potential threat, it spreads its wings. Touching the neighboring butterfly, causing it also to unfold its wings. The chain reaction goes through the entire group, and they swiftly fly away to safety.

How long do butterflies sleep?


Butterflies don’t sleep like humans. Instead, the insects enter a state called quiescence or rest and low activity. During this time, butterflies remain still for long stretches. Because they lack eyelids, they cannot shut their eyes. Therefore, they keep their eyes open when they sleep hidden among foliage or on trees and shrubs.


Why do some butterflies stay awake during the night?


Butterfly on purple flowerAmerican moth-butterflies are active at night. Their dull colors and excellent hearing allow them to avoid nighttime predators. Unlike their more colorful counterparts, they can be active in low light conditions and cooler temperatures. Being active at night also allows them to find mates and reproduce when there is less competition for resources.


Overall, being active at night is an excellent survival strategy, allowing certain species of butterflies to thrive in their environments.


What to Do If You Find a Butterfly Resting at Night?


Butterflies have a knack for locating secure hiding spots to rest in during the night. Therefore, you are unlikely to encounter a butterfly during nighttime. After all, if you found it, what’s stopping birds, reptiles, rodents, lizards, and other predators from hunting them? However, you can occasionally spot a butterfly hanging from a branch or door-frame.


The best decision is to leave the butterfly undisturbed in its hiding spot. Disturbing a butterfly at night may cause it to fall to the ground while attempting to fly away.


Factors Affecting Butterfly Nighttime Behavior


Butterflies are generally diurnal and rest during the night. However, certain factors—environmental and human intervention—may mean you spot them fluttering around in the twilight or early evening hours. So why are some species of butterflies active at night? Here are a few possibilities:


  • During summer, butterflies may remain active in the late evening when it’s dark due to warmer temperatures.
  • Some moths have colorful wing patterns and are easily mistaken for butterflies.
  • Changes in the environment and climate change could affect butterfly behavior. However, scientists say insufficient research has been done to prove climate change is a factor.

Butterflies at Night- In Conclusion


Most butterflies are active during warm, sunny days and rest at night. However, some species remain active in the hours of darkness due to their unique characteristics and abilities. But one thing is certain—whether butterflies are active in daytime or nighttime, protecting species of butterflies and moths is vital because they play a vital role in the local ecosystems.

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