Where Do Butterflies Go In Winter?

In spring and summer butterflies emerge in the garden, but where were they during the winter? Turns out there are quite a few strategies these insects use to survive our winter. As you read through these approaches, keep in mind that eggs, chrysalis, caterpillars and adult butterflies may be overwintering on your plants or in the leaf litter. If don’t cut down your faded plants in the fall and leave them until temperatures warm in the spring, they can survive the winter and emerge in your garden!

Adult Butterflies

These butterflies hibernate through the winter. They find shelter in wood piles, beneath loose bark, or in hollow trees or logs. The Tortoiseshell butterflies often hibernate in groups, and may even congregate in sheds or outbuildings for shelter.

• Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)
• Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)
• Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma)
• Gray Comma (Polygonia progne)
• Compton Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis vau-album)
• Milbert's Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis milberti)

Eggs

In autumn, these butterflies lay their eggs on the stems, twigs, or at the base of caterpillar food plants. The eggs spend the winter in diapause, and the tiny caterpillars hatch in the spring to feast on the newly-emerging leaves.

• European Skipper (Thymelicus lineola)
• Bronze Copper (Lycaena hyllus)
• Coral Hairstreak (Satyrium titus)
• Edward's Hairstreak (Satyrium edwardsii)
• Striped Hairstreak (Satyrium liparops)
• Banded Hairstreak (Satyrium calanus)

Newly Hatched Caterpillars

Some adult butterflies lay their eggs on caterpillar food plants in the autumn. The eggs hatch, but the little caterpillars do not eat. Instead they make nests at the base of the plant, and hibernate until spring, waiting for warmer weather and the tender new growth.

• Aphrodite Fritillary (Speyeria aphrodite)
• Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele cybele)
• Common Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis pegala nephele)

Mid-stage Caterpillars

Most caterpillars go through five "instars" or stages of growth, shedding their skin between each stage. Some of them hibernate by going into diapause during one of the middle stages, resting through the winter to awake and complete their growth in the spring. Many of them make a leaf shelter by using silk to web leaves together into a tight roll. Some (White Admirals, Red-spotted Purples, and Viceroys) "sew" part of a leaf to a stem or twig. Eastern Tailed Blues spend the winter in seed pods of pea family plants such as alfalfa, clover, and beans. Others overwinter beneath leaf litter or forest rubble.

• Least Skipper (Ancyloxypha numitor)
• Long Dash Skipper (Polites mystic)
• Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)
• Indian Skipper (Herperia sassacus)
• Peck's Skipper (Polites peckius)
• Northern Broken Dash (Wallengrenia egeremet)
• Dun Skipper (Euphyes vestries metacomet)
• Sleepy Duskywing (Erynnis brizo)
• Northern Cloudywing (Thorybes pylades)
• Dreamy Duskywing (Erynnis icelus)
• Juvenal's Duskywing (Erynnis juvenalis)

Mid-stage Caterpillars (continued)

• Common Sootywing (Pholisora catullus)
• Pink-edged Sulphur (Colias interior)
• Eastern Tailed Blue (Everes Comyntas)
• Meadow Fritillary (Boloria bellona)
• Silver-bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene myrina)
• Atlantis Fritillary (Speyeria atlantis)
• Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis)
• Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos)
• White Admiral (Limenitis arthemis arthemis)
• Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)
• Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis astyanax)
• Northern Pearly Eye (Enodia anthedon)
• Little Wood Satyr (Megisto cymela)
• Appalachian Eyed Brown (Satyrodes appalachia)
• Eyed Brown (Satyrodes eurydice eurydice)
• Black Swallowtail Chrysalis

Mature Caterpillars and Pupa (Chrysalis)

Some butterflies hibernate as mature caterpillars, or shed their last skin and emerge as a pupa (chrysalis) and enter diapause until spring.

• Tawny-edged Skipper (Polites themistocles)
• Delaware Skipper (Anatrytone logan)
• Hobomok Skipper (Poanes hobomok)
• Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)
• Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)
• Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)