Can Butterflies See Their Wings: Yes, But..

In short, the answer is yes. Butterflies can see their wings. The eye of a butterfly is so insanely complex, and they can even see more than our human eyes.

So, let’s take a look at the world through butterfly eyes.

Can butterflies see the color of their wings?

Yes, adult butterflies can see the color of their wings, but it’s not the bright colors that we see. When light hits the tiny scales on the wings of a butterfly, the refracted pigments give it the intense color that we see.

However, they can detect the ultraviolet markings on their own wings, which is something that the human eye cannot detect.

Some butterflies, like the Blue Morpho, aren’t actually blue. They just look blue by the way the light hits the scale on their wings. So, a Blue Morpho doesn’t see the same blue colors that we do. While they can see their wings, it looks much different from their point of view.

Free Butterfly Garden Mastery Course

Sign up for our five-email course that will teach you how to identify, observe and attract butterflies to your garden.

What does a butterfly vision look like?

Unlike human eyes which paint a clear picture of the world around them, butterflies see the world as a mosaic scene.

Butterflies have compound eyes with 17,000 individual light receptors called ommatidia. They can detect predators when there are subtle shifts in their light receptors. It’s why a butterfly immediately flees as you walk closer to it.

Adults also have a visual field of nearly 360 degrees, so they can even see behind them! A butterfly’s ability to see behind them is critical to their survival. Humans turn their necks and move their eyes to look in different directions, but butterflies can’t move their compound eyes (and they don’t have necks!).

Their 360-degree field of vision allows them to easily spot predators, even when they creep from behind them.

Anna's eighty-eight Butterfly (Diaethria anna)
Anna’s eighty-eight Butterfly (Diaethria anna)

What color is a butterfly’s vision?

Did you know that butterflies can see different colors than humans? The compound eye of the butterfly allows them to see ultraviolet and polarised light. Simply put, ultraviolet light (or UV light) is a type of electromagnetic radiation that is invisible to the human eyes, but not to a butterfly!

Humans have color receptors that can see up to three colors, while butterflies can see up to nine. Flowers emit a form of ultraviolet light that attracts certain species of butterflies. This form of ultraviolet vision makes it easier for butterflies to quickly spot food sources and flowers.

They have three types of photoreceptors that pick up on green, red, and blue light wavelengths. This type of color vision allows them to spot potential mates. In addition to their unique vision, butterflies also use their antenna to pick up on light waves and movement.

Can butterflies see you?

Butterflies can detect light, UV light, and shapes, but they are very nearsighted. So, when a butterfly flees from the lens of your camera, it’s not because they recognized you as a human.

Butterflies cannot organize the world they see into patterns the way humans do. Butterflies organize the natural world by reacting to changes in light and movement.

Simulated butterfly vision
Simulated butterfly vision; photo credit: Klaus Schmitt

What is the color of a butterfly’s eye?

The eyes of butterflies vary from different species of butterflies. Swallowtails, for instance, have black and grey eyes. Yellow butterflies, on the other hand, typically have yellow and green eyes.

The Monarch butterfly has black eyes. And their the color of their eyes varies from species, the range of colors they can see is all the same.

What about the eyes of a caterpillar?

Sadly, caterpillars drew the short straw in the eye department. Most species of caterpillars have six pin-hole eyes on each side of their head. These tiny holes can detect changes in light, and not much else.

Caterpillars cannot detect shapes, and they can’t see color. But that all changes when they emerge from their chrysalis!

So, can butterflies see their own beauty?

A quote from Naya Rivera once said“Butterflies can’t see their wings. They can’t see how truly beautiful they are, but everyone else can. People are like that as well.” And that’s 100 percent false!

Butterflies can see their beautiful wings. Their ability to pick up on ultraviolet light makes them, in some circumstances, even brighter and more vibrant!

While these beautiful insects can see their wings, it doesn’t mean they appreciate their beauty. The different colors of a butterfly’s wings are purely utilitarian – they help the butterflies survive and find mates. Which is a bonus for the humans who love to watch them fly. 

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!

Let us improve this post!

Tell us how we can improve this post?

Leave a Comment