How Long Do Butterflies Live? (Painted Lady, Monarch & More)

How Long do butterflies live

There has been an ongoing debate on how long butterflies live for with some people speculating a lifespan of one day. Scientifically, it turns out that there is some truth to these rumors.

So, how long do butterflies live?

  • Painted Lady : 15 to 29 days
  • Monarch butterfly : 2 to 6 weeks and up to 9 months in a conducive climate.
  • Black Swallowtail : 10 to 40 days
  • Alcon Blue butterfly: 1.7 days

How long do butterflies live for?

In general, butterflies tend to have relatively short lifespans. A study carried out on butterfly life spans reveals that the longest lifespan of a butterfly was 283 days. However, the average observed lifespan for butterflies is 2 to 4 weeks. [1] [2]

Several factors have a direct influence on a butterfly`s lifespan. These include the size, and species of the butterfly; the environment temperature; and whether or not the butterfly lives in captivity.

  • For example, larger butterflies are observed to have a longer lifespan than small-sized butterflies.

In addition to size, different species of butterflies live longer than others. Aside from specific butterfly characteristics, the environment in which the butterfly lives also has a direct effect on its lifespan.

How long do butterflies live for

As butterflies are cold-blooded, the temperature of their environment is a key factor affecting their survival.

A butterfly goes through four life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Warmer weather has been found to support the fast development of the larva and pupa stage in a butterfly’s life cycle. [3]

This type of weather also encourages a higher activity level in butterflies as compared to colder weather that makes them more sluggish further reducing their chances of survival.

  • For this reason, tropical and migratory butterflies have a longer lifespan.

Lifespan of butterflies by species

There exist about 17,500 species of butterflies in this species but in this article we will  focus on Monarch, Black Swallowtail, and the Alcon blue.

1. How long do Monarch butterflies live?

Studies reveal that the Monarch butterfly has an average lifespan range of 2 to 6 weeks and up to 9 months in a conducive climate.

This species has adapted to migrating to warmer climates during the fall season in a bid to enhance its survival.

They migrate back in warmer months, guided by the sun and a natural magnetic compass. Scientists believe that it is their offspring who migrate back, sometimes up to the fourth generation.

The monarch butterfly feeds on poisonous plants known as milkweeds. Although monarch butterflies have adapted to tolerating their poisonous diet, milkweed makes monarch butterflies foul-tasting and poisonous to their predators.

Predators have grown to associate their bright-colored appearance with their unpalatability. For this reason, they are least likely to be targeted by predators.

The Monarch butterfly is famously recognized for its brightly colored orange and black appearance, natively existing in North and South America.

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2. How long do Black Swallowtail Butterflies Live?

The Black Swallowtail has a lifespan of 10 to 40 days and is identifiable by its black appearance with predominant tails.  

This is a butterfly species that is in line with using unpalatability as a defense mechanism is the Black Swallowtail butterfly. This species abundantly lives in the eastern United States, Northern Canada, Colorado, and southern California.

This species is similar and often confused with other swallowtail butterflies.

The main difference between the black swallowtail and other swallowtail species is a double band of yellow dots on its wings. This band is more visible on the male species. On the female species, it appears fainter or might be completely missing.

This coloration serves to camouflage the black swallowtail making it less visible to predators. The black swallowtail just like the monarch butterfly lays its eggs on poisonous host plants.

At the caterpillar stage, the species feeds on these plants and can detoxify the chemicals. However, predators find the black swallowtail mildly distasteful as a result of their diet.

3. How long do Alcon Blue butterflies live?

The Alcon Blue butterfly lives for an average of 1.7 days.

It is considered one of the most beautiful yet rare species native to Europe, Siberia, and Mongolia.

The male Alcon Blue spots a deep blue appearance while their female counterparts have a black-brown appearance with a deep blue variation in their basal area.

In its caterpillar life stage, the Alcon Blue adopts an interesting parasitic relationship with red ants to increase its chances of survival.

Once the Alcon caterpillar has sufficiently fed on food plants in the caterpillar stage, it secretes surface chemicals similar to those of ants. The ants identifying with it carry the Alcon Blue larvae to their nests and feed them.

Once the caterpillar progresses to the adult butterfly stage, it crawls out of the nest. At this stage, the Alcon Blue butterfly has developed scales that protect it from the red ants that now perceive it as an enemy.

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What Butterfly Species Lives for 24 Hours?

The Mayfly butterfly lives for 24 hours. Yes, it has a much shorter lifespan than the Alcon Blue.

These species get their name from their hatching season which begins in May and continues throughout the year. Even more interesting is its scientific name ‘Ephemeroptera’ which is a derivation of a Greek word to mean, ‘short-lived’.

This is not surprising seeing that the Mayfly has a lifespan of 24 hours.

Mayflies spot large translucent netlike triangular wings with vertical and horizontal veins. Although mayflies have variations in color and size, they tend to camouflage with the environment.

As adults, mayflies have no mouths and therefore are unable to eat. However, this is not a challenge to the Mayfly, seeing that they have a short lifespan. As an adult, the mayfly mainly exists to reproduce before dying.

Why Do Butterflies Have a Short Lifespan?

Unfortunately, despite their adapting mechanisms, butterflies on average have a short lifespan.  This is largely attributed to the presence of predators which are large birds but also lizards, frogs, spiders, and praying mantises.

This reality is especially true for butterflies living in the wild.

Aside from predators, disease, harsh weather and large objects, such as vehicles threaten the survival of butterflies.

Harsh weather i.e. rain and high winds can cause damage to the large, delicate wings of butterflies. Once damaged, butterflies can be blown to unfamiliar habitats which threaten their survival. Damaged wings also make butterflies easy prey and extremely vulnerable to predators.

It’s interesting to see the factors determining average lifespans for butterflies but also sad that such beautiful creatures only get to experience the world briefly. So, next time you see a butterfly, don’t try trapping it. Just let it live!  

Lastly, see how this butterflies morphs into life. What a beauty!

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