How High Can Butterflies Fly?

It’s always fascinating to see butterflies flying and gliding through the air and in our garden. Watching how they would turn out, from being a caterpillar to seeing them go through nectars, it’s always a wonder how these creatures live. But have you ever wondered how high butterflies can fly or how far they travel?

How High Can Butterflies Fly?

Monarch Butterfly in flight
Monarch Butterfly in flight | image by Richard Hurd via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Reports from glider pilots suggest that monarch butterflies can fly as high as eleven thousand feet depending on the weather. Other species, including the Clouded Yellows and Satyrine Paralasa Nepalica are known to reach 3000-4400 meters and 4500 meters, respectively. Usually, a butterfly will fly from 1 to 300 feet from the ground.

It’s not every day that butterflies are this way, though. We can only see these insects fly this much if they are migrating. In normal circumstances, butterflies prefer to fly low, where they can rest in a tree or eat from nectar.

You often see a swarm of butterflies during migration season, when these insects try to flee from winter and look for warmer weather. However, the height and speed of the butterflies depend on the weather and wind.

Butterflies have more chances to fly long enough during the day if the sun is high and full. Additionally, if the wind is going in the right direction, you can see these insects gliding through the wind and going up at full speed.

However, if the conditions are not suitable, most butterflies will only fly low or not fly at all. This is especially true if it’s raining.

How High Do Butterflies Normally Fly?

Palos Verdes blue butterfly on flower
Palos Verdes blue butterfly on flower | image by USFWS Pacific Southwest Region via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

In most cases a butterfly will only fly below 300 feet. They often fly from tree to a tree resting in twigs or leaves. If they are not resting, you could often see them looking for sweet nectar from colorful flowers.

These insects are active during the daytime because the flight muscles on their wings are sunlight-dependent. This means that they can fly at full speed and height when the sun is full.

Challenges That Butterflies Face

Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly on pink flower
Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly on pink flower | image by C Watts via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Since butterflies are cold-blooded insects, they rely on the weather and their surroundings. Here are two challenges that butterflies face when they are flying.

  1. Low Oxygen – Insects need an enormous amount of energy and oxygen to maintain their flight. While butterflies are cold-blooded and don’t have lungs, flying high enough would mean that there are low oxygen levels. This can challenge butterflies trying to migrate since they need enough wind above a few hundred feet to fly fast.
  2. Low Temperature – Butterflies can either become paralyzed or die during low and cold temperatures. These insects must have enough warmth provided by the sun or thermal energy. When these insects start to fly in low temperatures, there’s a big chance that they can freeze to death.

The ideal temperature for butterflies to fly is above 70 degrees Fahrenheit or even as low as 60 degrees Fahrenheit. However, if the temperature goes below this level, these insects will look for a shelter where they can rest and wait for the heat to return.

How Far Can A Butterfly Fly?

Migrating butterflies can fly as far as 25-30 miles per day. They can go further if the weather conditions are ideal and perfect for flying. However, if the weather is terrible, they may reduce this distance or not travel at all.

Can A Butterfly Fly in the Wind?

Butterfly monarch field
Butterfly monarch field | Image by Jamie Johannsen from Pixabay

Flying in the opposite direction of the wind can be tricky for any insect. Since a butterfly can only fly about 3-30 miles per hour, it can be difficult and straining for this insect to beat the wind. In general, butterflies do not try to go against the wind but instead wait for it to pass and hide in trees, rocks, or tall grass.

Can A Butterfly Fly in Rain?

Since butterflies are light insects, a single raindrop can be fatal. You rarely see a butterfly forcing itself to fly during rain or strong winds.

These insects need at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit to warm their body. That is why, when it’s raining, you’ll often find butterflies hiding and waiting for the storm to stop.

Can Butterflies Fly Higher Than Birds?

Butterfly and bird playing
Butterfly and bird playing | image by Hari K Patibanda via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 2.0

If the weather is perfect and it’s migrating season, there’s a big chance that a butterfly can fly as high as birds. Birds have been recorded to fly as high as 11,278 meters. Whereas monarch butterflies have also been reported by glider pilots to reach 11,000 meters.

As long as the sun is bright and the winds are strong and going in the right direction, butterflies can fly thousands of meters above the ground.

Final Thoughts

Regular butterflies can fly a couple of hundred meters above the ground. Specific species like monarchs and cloud yellow are seen to fly a few thousand meters too. You’ll often see butterflies flying high during migrating seasons and in perfect weather conditions.