Peacock Butterfly: An Overview of Its Majestic Beauty

A Peacock butterfly, also known as the European peacock butterfly, is a butterfly that lives in Europe and Asia and is unique for emitting a hissing sound as part of its defense mechanism.

Peacock Butterfly species summary

Scientific NameAglais io
Family NameNymphalidae
HabitatLowlands, fields, sheds, woods, gardens
RangeBritain, Ireland, Russia, Korea and Japan
Host PlantsNettle species
Butterfly DescriptionOrange/red wing base with large eyespots on both forewings and hindwings
Caterpillar DescriptionBlacks with some white dots and black spikes

Butterfly Description

Peacock butterfly
Peacock butterfly

Peacock butterflies have eyespots on the corners of both their forewings and hindwings. These eyespots resemble peacock feathers and can be shades of black, white, red, orange, yellow, and blue. They are also surrounded by other prominent colors.

The ventral sides of their wings are darker than their dorsal counterparts, making them commonly mistaken for dead leaves. Dorsal parts are red with gray and black edges peppered with rust-brown spots.

A male Peacock butterfly only has one segment, while his female counterpart has around five. The latter’s body and head are covered in hair.

Peacock butterflies’ wingspan can go as far as 2 to 3 inches for both males and females. They are considered butterfly species within the medium to large range.

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Peacock Butterfly vs. white Peacock Butterfly

These two butterfly species are drastically different, even though they share the same name. Both These butterfly species got its name from the eyespots they have on the apex parts of their forewings and hindwings.

Still, the White peacock butterfly has smaller black spots, white color, and yellowish wing edges. The White peacock’s front legs are short and non-functioning.

The regular Peacock butterfly is more orange/reddish, with bigger eyespots.

Caterpillar Description

Peacock butterfly caterpillars are black or dark brown with yellow or white spots, tiny white dots, or light blue markings. Larvae also have black spikes on all segments of their bodies. The pupa or chrysalis appears brown or grayish green with two horns protruding on the upper part.

What is the peacock butterfly’s habitat?

Peacock butterflies usually favor temperate areas when looking for a place to migrate when they don’t resort to overwintering. The following are just some of their habitats:

  • Lowlands
  • Fields
  • Sheds 
  • Hollow trees
  • Woodland clearings
  • Gardens

Usual Host Plants

Female Peacock butterflies lay their eggs on these spots, where the caterpillars feed upon hatching:

  • Small nettle (U. urens)
  • Common nettle (Urtica dioica)
  • Hop (Humulus lupulus)

Preferred food plants

Common nettle
Common nettle

Adult Peacock butterflies get their nectar from the following plants:

  • Thistles
  • Small nettle
  • Ragwort
  • Dandelions
  • Honeydew
  • Common nettle

Aside from nectar, these butterflies feed on rotten fruit and sap from various plants and trees.

Overwintering, defense, and mating behavior

Peacock butterflies tend to undergo overwintering through hibernation. While hibernating, their default defense mechanism is to use their wings as camouflage to help them blend in with their surroundings. Sometimes, they have to resort to leaf mimicry, depending on where they are at the moment.

Releasing a hissing sound is their unique strategy to protect themselves against predators when they are about to hibernate. Hissing is an especially effective method against rodent predators because Peacock butterflies encounter them under low-lighting conditions when their large eyespots are ineffective.

The eyespots can also ward off predators because they make the butterflies seem significantly larger than they are.

Peacock butterflies are monogamous creatures and commonly have only one mate at a given time. One of the main reasons behind this is the females’ tendency to be receptive to males only during the transition period between overwintering and their emergence from hibernation.

This relatively short time prompts males to select only one partner during breeding. Thus, they scour the areas where the females may be seen first after emerging from their long rest.

Peacock butterflies typically migrate in the late summer and return to their usual habitat in springtime.

What are the Peacock butterfly’s natural predators?

These are some natural enemies that prey on the European peacock butterflies:

  • Pied flycatchers
  • Blue tits
  • Passerine birds
  • Mice

Where can you find the peacock butterfly?

There have been sightings of Peacock butterflies in Ireland, Russia, Korea and Japan.

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