Where Do Butterflies Go In Winter?

Butterfly 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

Eastern Comma Butterfly 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.

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


Butterfly 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.

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

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

Mid-stage Caterpillars

Black Swallowtail Butterfly 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.

Appalachian Eyed Brown (Satyrodes appalachia)
Atlantis Fritillary (Speyeria atlantis)
Black Swallowtail Chrysalis
Common Sootywing (Pholisora catullus)
Dreamy Duskywing (Erynnis icelus)
Dun Skipper (Euphyes vestries metacomet)
Eastern Tailed Blue (Everes Comyntas)
Eyed Brown (Satyrodes eurydice eurydice)
Indian Skipper (Herperia sassacus)
Juvenal's Duskywing (Erynnis juvenalis)
Least Skipper (Ancyloxypha numitor)
Little Wood Satyr (Megisto cymela)
Long Dash Skipper (Polites mystic)
Meadow Fritillary (Boloria bellona)
Northern Broken Dash (Wallengrenia egeremet)
Northern Cloudywing (Thorybes pylades)
Northern Pearly Eye (Enodia anthedon)
Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos)
Peck's Skipper (Polites peckius)
Pink-edged Sulphur (Colias interior)
Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis astyanax)
Silver-bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene myrina)
Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)
Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis)
Sleepy Duskywing (Erynnis brizo)
Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)
White Admiral (Limenitis arthemis arthemis)

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.

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

Further Information

Butterflies and Moths of North America
Southern Wisconsin Butterfly Assn (NABA)
The Butterfly Site