How do Butterflies Sleep? (All Questions Answered)



Written by Katie Piercy

It’s not entirely certain whether butterflies sleep. They certainly enter a state of rest, where they become less active and responsive. However, as they enter a similar state during torpor, which occurs when the weather becomes cold, and during winter when they enter diapause, it is hard to be sure whether sleep can be seen as significantly different from these two other forms of rest.


Do butterflies sleep?

butterfly sleep

When humans and other mammals sleep a number of physiological changes take place. A key aspect of sleeping is a change in brain activity.

As insects are so small and their brains often very different from ours, the study of whether they undergo similar changes is very tricky to do.

We know that insects rest at certain times and that during this time they will become less responsive. They often tuck in their legs or antennae or droop noticeably. But can we be sure this is the same as our idea of sleep? Can a butterfly dream?

Butterfly SpeciesSleep Patterns
Monarch ButterflyMonarchs roost in trees or other sheltered areas
Painted Lady ButterflyPainted Ladies rest on the ground or low vegetation
Swallowtail ButterflySwallowtails rest on leaves or branches
Blue Morpho ButterflyBlue Morphos sleep with their wings folded upright
Cabbage White ButterflyCabbage Whites sleep in sheltered locations, such as under leaves or in vegetation
Table 1: Butterfly Sleep Patterns

However, some studies have looked at some insect species and have found that they do require some downtime to function. Fruit flies who were not allowed to rest were less able to navigate their way through a maze than those who were.

There are a number of insects that scientists are happy to say do sleep, including honey bees. Honey bees react similarly to fruit flies without sufficient rest, meaning they are less able to complete tasks.

In general, it is thought that signs of insects sleeping are the drooping of their body, a slower reaction to stimulation and the muscles relaxing. However, for many insects, they will enter a state very similar to this known as torpor when conditions are unsuitable for them.

For example, butterflies will become unresponsive during cold weather. This is because they are cold-blooded animals and need warmth to be able to move. Another easily confused state with sleep is diapause. Diapause is a state insects enter in the winter, or when they need to wait out unsuitable conditions.

Sleep CharacteristicsDescription
Reduced ActivityButterflies have reduced activity levels during their sleep periods
Resting PositionsButterflies may rest with their wings open, closed, or folded
Duration of SleepSleep duration varies among butterfly species and environmental conditions
Sensitivity to LightButterflies are often responsive to changes in light levels, which can influence their sleep patterns
Table 2: Butterfly Sleep Characteristics

This state can last for months, but during this time the insect will act in a very similar way to if they were asleep.

So do butterflies sleep? For now, it seems the definitive answer is a way off. However, what we can say is they most certainly rest, and require that rest to function fully. While there may in the future be various reasons why we would describe this as something other than sleep, it certainly acts for them as sleep does for us.

Also read: Do Ladybugs Sleep? (Explained)

When do butterflies sleep?

If we are to apply the word sleep to the resting that butterflies do, then they sleep at various times throughout the day and at night. During the day they may sleep when conditions become unsuitable for them, such as if it starts to rain or becomes overcast and cold.

Butterflies will also head to bed in the evening, as the light and warmth begin to fade. As they need the light to keep warm they aren’t able to fly around at the night, and it is safer for them to find somewhere suitable to rest than end up stranded out in the open.

While their nighttime resting is fairly predictable, when they rest in the day is much more dependant on the conditions. If it is a warm and sunny day they may rest very little, whereas if the day is cold and miserable they might never get out of bed.

Also read: What do Butterflies Eat and Drink? (Detailed Guide)

Why do butterflies sleep?

Butterflies likely need sleep for much the same reasons that we do. Because they need a chance to recuperate from the daily work and recover enough to be at their best. As much of their resting time is determined by the weather it might be that they don’t need half as much as they get but they can’t do much more than waiting around for the conditions to change before they can get out there again.

Where do butterflies sleep?


For many insects, the world is a dangerous place. There are plenty of hungry birds, mammals and other insects all waiting to take a tasty bite. Because insects are less responsive when resting or sleeping, it is dangerous for them to do so out in the open. Usually, they will find nooks and crannies to hide away in, such as in piles of leaves or long grass.

Many butterflies have also developed excellent camouflage, particularly on the outside of their wings, so that when they close them to rest they simply disappear. With this on their side sometimes they may simply hang out on a tree trunk or dangle from the branches like a dead leaf.

Also read: Can Butterflies Sting? How do They Protect Themselves?

How do butterflies sleep?


Unlike us, butterflies do not have eyelids. This means they don’t exactly get any ‘shut eye’. In general, butterflies will rest with their wings closed, and they may hunker down more than when they aren’t resting. Apart from this it could be hard for a none expert to be sure at first sight if a butterfly was simply waiting to take off or grabbing a little beauty sleep.

One key way to know that a butterfly is resting is that it may not respond so quickly to simulation. For example, a butterfly may quickly fly away when you approach if they are fully awake, but may not stir if they are resting.

Confusion can arise when the butterfly in question is actually in diapause. Butterflies in diapause will appear very similar to resting butterflies and will be equally unresponsive. These insects largely enter this state during the winter, though some species may enter diapause for reasons other than cold.

Also read: Do Butterflies Migrate? Which Species and Why?

How long does a butterfly sleep?

There is little information on the length of time a butterfly needs to rest in order to be refreshed. However, due to their reliance on weather, and their inability to remain active overnight, the length of time a butterfly may rest can depend a great deal on external factors and vary day to day.

Do butterflies sleep upside down?

While hanging upside down may send all the blood rushing to our heads, insects seem to be less concerned. Butterflies will certainly happily perch upright, sideways and even upside down. Many species will rest upside down as they are able to stay hidden or out of reach of predators in this manner. It may also add to their camouflage if their patterning makes them look like a dead leaf.

Do butterflies have dreams?

With the advances in technology, it probably won’t be long before we know if butterflies really do sleep or not. However, whether or not we’ll ever be able to be sure if butterflies dream is a different thing entirely. It would certainly be a fascinating thing to behold.


Katie Piercy

Katie Piercy, a conservation industry veteran with a diverse career, has worked in various environments and with different animals for over a decade. In the UK, she reared and released corncrake chicks, chased hen harriers, and restored peatland. She has also gained international experience, counting macaws in Peru, surveying freshwater springs in Germany, and raising kiwi chicks in New Zealand.

Meadows have always captivated her, and she has often provided advice and assistance in managing these habitats. From surveying snake's head fritillary in Wiltshire to monitoring butterfly species in Norfolk, Katie's dedication extends even to her own front garden, where she has created a mini meadow to support wild bees and other pollinators.

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