Range:

Found on all continents except Antarctica

Habitat:

Every habitat from tropical forests to open grasslands to Arctic tundra

Winged wonders

They taste with their feet and have a suction tube for a mouth. Their eyes are made of 6,000 lenses and can see ultraviolet light. They drink from mud puddles and transform from caterpillars to fluttering adults. These fascinating magicians are butterflies!

There are about 165,000 known species, found on every continent except Antarctica, and they come in a wide variety of colors and sizes. The largest species may reach 12 inches (30 centimeters) across, while the smallest may be only 0.12 inches (0.3 centimeters).

Butterfly or moth: what's the difference?

Technically speaking, butterflies are types of moths. But there are some ways to tell them apart. Butterflies generally have long, smooth antennae that are rounded on the ends, while most moths have thick, feathery antennae. Moths also tend to have larger, fuzzier bodies than butterflies. Most moths fly at night, while most butterflies fly during the day. Because of when they're active, butterflies tend to be more colorful than moths, but that's not always the case.

You can see another difference when they're resting: most moths flatten their wings out over their bodies, while most butterflies raise them up and against each other. And although both butterflies and moths develop in a chrysalis, most moths also spin a protective cocoon. When people talk about this family of insects in general, they may use "butterflies" or "moths" to describe them, and both are considered correct.

In some places, the number of caterpillars feeding on plants is so large that you can actually hear them munching.
The Asian vampire moth lives up to its name! It has a tough proboscis to break through thick-skinned fruits, but sometimes it also sucks the blood of water buffalo or deer.
Many adult butterflies never excrete waste—they use up all they eat for energy.
"Puddle clubs" are groups of butterflies that gather at mud puddles and wet soil to suck up salts and minerals.
Butterflies can see red, green, and yellow, but they also see color in the ultraviolet range, which reveals patterns on flowers—and other butterflies—that we can't see.
Some Arctic moths may spend 14 years as caterpillars, only active a few weeks each summer.
Butterfly wings are actually clear—the colors and patterns we see are made by the reflection of the tiny scales covering them.
Skipper butterflies fly so fast they could outpace a horse.
Flowering weeds are a staple nectar and pollen source for butterflies.
Most people have no idea that the sustainability of food as we know it is so tightly linked with the health of pollinators like bees, butterflies, and beetles. Share what you know!
Plant some milkweed! Create a habitat in your yard, garden, or flowerbox that invites pollinators.

Butterfly Jungle at the Safari Park

Because butterflies deserve recognition, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park has created an event in their honor: Butterfly Jungle, an annual springtime celebration. The Safari Park’s Hidden Jungle is home to our butterflies, and inside our rain forest greenhouse, you’ll see thousands of butterflies above and around you as they sip nectar from flowers and feeders. Preparation for this event starts months in advance. We import the butterflies while they’re still pupae from butterfly farms in Central and South America.

Because our exhibit is not intended to keep an ongoing population of butterflies, we don’t include host plants, and the butterflies don’t lay eggs. Most adult butterflies live about two weeks, so our butterflies complete their lives naturally, and there is no second generation.

Pollinator Waystation at the Zoo

Notice something different at the Zoo's Elephant Odyssey entrance? A new Pollinator Waystation, an area that will be planted to attract native pollinators like bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, is being built. Within the waystation, a special area is being created for monarch butterflies to feed and lay their eggs on milkweed, their host plant. As the hungry caterpillars munch through it on their way to becoming adult butterflies, the milkweed plants will be moved to the greenhouse on site to recover and re-leaf.

Supporting butterfly farms in Central and South America is an important conservation step. In order to raise butterflies, the farmers designate areas of rain forest for the butterflies to live in. They can then sell the pupae to exhibits like the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s annual Butterfly Jungle event, bringing in a sustainable income while also protecting the local habitat.

There are more than 165 butterfly species native to Southern California, and some are threatened or endangered. The Quino checkerspot butterfly and the Laguna Mountains skipper are two endangered species that have dwindled to a few sparse colonies around San Diego County, largely due to agricultural and urban development. You can help change that by planting native Southern California plants in your garden instead of exotic species. Some native plants provide a nectar source for adult butterflies, while others are host plants for butterfly eggs and caterpillars.