How Long Do Butterflies Live?

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key point

  • Unfortunately, butterflies don't live very long.
  • Butterflies are in the adult stage of their life cycle.
  • Many factors can affect a butterfly's lifespan.

Butterflies are beautiful and extraordinary creatures and a source of endless wonder. Here are some facts you never knew about butterflies:

  • butterflies taste with their feet
  • They are cold-blooded animals and need a warm climate to survive
  • Butterflies survive only by drinking liquid
  • Their wings are actually transparent and also protect them from predators
  • Their wings are divided into four parts, not two as is commonly believed
  • There are about 100,000 different species of butterflies in the world

Despite the romantic thoughts surrounding butterflies, the sad truth is that they tend to have relatively short lifespans, and most live only a few weeks at best. In fact, the longest-lived adult butterflies only live for a year. However, different species of butterflies have different lifespans.

Photo of an Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly, the butterfly is eating a purple flower, the butterfly is light orange with black stripes
oriental swallowtail butterfly

©Maria T Hoffman/

What is the average lifespan of a butterfly?

Scientists typically study the lifespan and habits of butterflies by tagging them in the wild, then recapture or observe them and record the data. While they can also study them in captivity, it's best to study these creatures in their natural habitats to get the fullest picture of their lifestyles.

Butterflies face more dangers and predators in the wild, so studying them in this way could give scientists a more accurate picture of how long they typically live.

Most adult butterflies only live an average of 15-29 days . Some may live up to six weeks, and those that migrate to more tropical climates may live longer before returning home to mate.

life cycle of a butterfly

The life of a butterfly is divided into four stages: egg, caterpillar, pupa and butterfly

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During the egg stage, the female butterfly will lay her eggs on the plants, and the larvae will provide them with proper nutrition when they hatch. Eggs usually hatch after about a week, but eggs of some species may take more or less time. Butterflies usually lay their eggs in "numbers," so they lay lots of eggs in the hope that a small number of them will survive.

how long do butterflies live
Monarch butterfly egg (Danaus plexippus), NJ (1x.6mm). Butterflies stick their eggs to leaves. The eggs will be destroyed if anything tries to remove them from the plant.

©Breck P. Kent/


This is also known as the larval stage. A caterpillar's entire existence revolves around eating as much as possible in order to grow and store as much nutrients as possible. It will use this stored food as an adult, so it is important that the caterpillar eats well during this stage.

Did you know that caterpillars can grow to 100 times their original size at this stage of their life? They have a tough exoskeleton, so must molt and molt multiple times as they continue to grow. For some species, such as the black swallowtail, molting can dramatically change the caterpillar's appearance.

On average, caterpillars live up to five weeks at this stage, depending on the species.

how long do butterflies live
A monarch butterfly from a caterpillar. Caterpillars have only 6 real legs and eat a lot.

© Darkdiamond67/


This is often called the pupal stage. The transitional phase of life begins when the caterpillar is fully grown and no longer needs to eat.

A few species of butterflies make a cocoon for themselves, but most just anchor themselves in a safe place, which then hardens into a chrysalis. How long this stage lasts can vary greatly between different butterfly species. Some may only remain in the pupa for a few weeks, but others can remain in this state for up to two years.

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During this transitional stage, the larva inside the pupa is completely liquefied, and specialized cells that were previously dormant are now activated, transforming the caterpillar into its final adult form.

how long do butterflies live
Pupa butterfly hanging on a leaf. Inside the chrysalis, the chrysalis transforms into an adult butterfly. This transformation can take a few days for some species of butterflies and up to a year for others!



Once an adult butterfly has emerged from its shell, it can begin reproducing and begin the life cycle anew. Because the only job of an adult butterfly is to mate and lay eggs, most species do not eat at all. That's why it's so important for caterpillars to store as much food as possible so they can live like healthy adults.

how long do butterflies live
Blue butterfly sits on a beautiful flower. Butterflies don't have mouths; instead, they "suck" their food with a straw-like apparatus called a straw.

© anek.soowannaphoom/

What affects the lifespan of a butterfly?

There are many factors that affect the lifespan of a butterfly.

How Long Do Butterflies Live: Size

In general, small butterflies don't live as long as larger ones.

How Long Do Butterflies Live: Species

Certain species are able to live longer than others. Monarch butterflies, for example, typically live for several months as they migrate to warmer climates.

Viceroy versus Monarch
A monarch butterfly sits on an orange cosmos in spring.


How Long Do Butterflies Live: Temperature

Butterflies are cold-blooded, so ambient temperature also affects their lifespan. Tropical and migratory butterflies tend to live longer because they spend more time in favorable climates. Also, if the butterfly eggs are laid in cold weather, they will remain as eggs until the weather warms up.

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How Long Do Butterflies Live: Captivity

As mentioned earlier, butterflies living in the wild usually have a much shorter lifespan because of their exposure to nature. In the wild, the presence of predators such as birds and large insects, and factors such as sudden changes in temperature or habitat changes can greatly shorten a butterfly's lifespan.

While captive butterflies still have a relatively short lifespan, they are almost always much longer than their natural lifespans. This is because they have access to adequate nutrition like caterpillars, a safe environment like pupae, and a controlled, predator-free environment like adults.

Longest-lived – sulfur butterfly

While most butterflies only live for a few months, even so, sulfur butterflies can actually live up to 13 months! This stunning yellow butterfly is found throughout Europe, Asia, and even North Africa, but mostly in northern England. Hibernating in the cold winter allows these butterflies to live for over a year!

brimstone butterfly
The longest lifespan of the sulfur butterfly is 13 months.

©Ian Grainger/

Fun Facts About Butterfly Lifespan

  • Did you know that many species of adult butterflies are born without mouths? Some are able to suck nectar from flowers, but most species rely on the nutrients they are able to store as caterpillars. This is why adult life tends to be short.
  • Only one or two out of every 100 butterfly eggs survive to the caterpillar stage. With so many eggs lost to predators and disease, female butterflies lay hundreds of eggs at a time.
  • Some butterflies live longer by hibernating in safe, warm places during the winter. Others, like the North American monarch butterfly, migrate across the country, spending the colder months in places like California.


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about the author

Lex is a green, tree-loving animal lover and mother of 21 felines and a dog. Now, she helps pet owners around the world become the best caretakers for their most trusted pets by sharing experiences and spreading love.

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