Aquafacts / Butterflies

Butterflies

Peruse some of the most frequently asked questions we’ve received about butterflies. AquaFacts come from our biologists and other reputable sources.

Quick info

19 kilometres per hour

Top flying speed

24,000

Known butterfly species

10 months 

Longest lifespan: brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni)

28 centimetres

The wingspan of the largest butterfly: Queen Alexandra Birdwing (Ornithoptera alexandrae)

What is butterfly farming?

Butterfly farming is a method of harvesting butterfly chrysalises from the butterfly host plants. The female will only lay her eggs on her host plant or plants. Butterfly farms maintain host plants, such as tropical plants, for different butterfly species and the captive butterfly population lay eggs on these plants. The eggs are then reared to the pupae stage for shipping.

What is the life cycle of a butterfly?

An adult butterfly lays an egg; the egg hatches into a caterpillar or larva; the caterpillar grows to form the chrysalis or pupa; and the chrysalis transforms into a butterfly.

What is the difference between a cocoon and a chrysalis?

Cocoon: An outer wrapping made by the caterpillar using silk produced by glands in the caterpillar’s mouth. Moth caterpillars create cocoons as protection during the process of transformation (metamorphosis).

Chrysalis: A firm casing created during the final molt before a caterpillar undergoes metamorphosis. The casing is an adaptation of the exoskeleton. Most butterflies form chrysalises rather than cocoons.

What do butterflies eat?

Adult butterflies feed on many items including rotting fruit, animal waste and, most commonly, the nectar found in many flowers.

What can we do to help butterfly populations?

Pesticides negatively impact the butterflies’ native plant communities and their use should be reduced or eliminated. Creating gardens can restore the lost habitat of local butterfly species.

What is a host plant?

A host plant is a plant that a female butterfly selects to lay her eggs on. She chooses the plant carefully because the larvae will feed on the plant once they hatch.

References

1. Butterfly Facts. October 2007.

2. Carter, David J. 1992. Butterflies and Moths. Toronto: Stoddart.

3. Guppy, Crispin and Jon Shepard. 2001. Butterflies of British Columbia. Vancouver: UBC Press.

4. Pyle, Robert Michael. 2002. The Butterflies of Cascadia. Seattle: Seattle Audubon Society Permission is granted by the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre for classroom teachers to make copies for non-commercial use. This permission does not extend to copying for promotional purposes, creating new collective works, or resale.