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About AquaFacts: AquaFacts are a resource for students who are looking for information on the animals at the Aquarium or other Aquarium-related topics. Here, we’ve compiled some of the most frequently asked questions that we’ve received about butterflies. The answers come from our biologists and from reputable sources that we reference at the end of this page. If you have a question about butterflies that’s not addressed in this page or the references below, please feel free to email our librarian.


Questions & Answers

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 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.

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 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 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.

Facts & References

Key Facts

  • The average lifespan at the adult stage is approximately two to four weeks.
  • Currently, there are over 24, 000 known species of butterflies.
  • The largest butterfly is the Queen Alexandra Birdwing (Ornithoptera alexandrae) with a wingspan of 28 cm or 11 inches. This species is only found in New Guinea.
  • The smallest butterfly is the Western Pygmy Blue (Brephidium exilis) with a wingspan of 1 cm. This butterfly can be found throughout the southern regions of North America.

Did You Know?

  • Butterflies only see three colors: red, green and yellow.
  • The top speed of a butterfly is approximately 19 km or 12 miles per hour.
  • Butterflies taste with their feet in order to find a good place to lay their eggs.
  • The brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni) has the longest adult life-span: nine to ten months.
  • Like all insects, the butterfly has six jointed legs, two antennae, and three body segments (head, thorax and abdomen).
  • Females are usually larger and longer-lived than the males.
  • Butterflies cannot hear but they can feel vibrations.
  • Some caterpillars eat 20 times their weight a day in food.
  • Gatorade is a great substitute for nectar.


  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.


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