Can Butterflies See Their Wings

Can Butterflies See Their Wings

Butterflies can see into the ultraviolet spectrum, but their distance vision isn’t great. As long as something is within about twelve feet of them, butterflies see more than humans can because they perceive colors we can’t.

Moreover, their wings can emit ultraviolet light waves thanks to the light they absorb. Can butterflies see their wings?

Butterflies can certainly see their wings due to their compound eyes that allow them to see 360 degrees around their head and 6 or more types of photoreceptors that allow them to see color in great detail. Butterflies have 2 types of eyes, single eyes used for focusing and compound eyes that contain 12,000 segments used to see around their bodies.

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Can Butterfly See Its Wings

A butterfly can see its wings just fine. In fact, they have excellent eyesight within a few feet of their own small bodies and can see further into the ultraviolet spectrum than humans.

Moreover, most species of butterflies have a near 360 degree view of their surroundings.

While we have no scientific evidence that a butterfly has a sense of self, it can see its wings both directly and in reflections such as windows and pools of water.

Can Butterflies See Color Of Their Wings

Butterflies can do more than merely see the color of their wings. To an extent, these unusual insects can control the color of their wings.

While they don’t always change visibly to human eyes, ultraviolet changes are a surprisingly complex communication system for butterflies.

As the Chicago Botanic Garden explains it, “…in addition to sensing ultraviolet light, butterflies can also emit ultraviolet light waves through their wings. Their wings are coated with minuscule scales that can reflect different color spectrums, depending on their shape and the angle of light that hits them. As the angle of sunlight shifts, the colors emitted from these scales shift…The structure of these scales reflects many wavelengths of light that we perceive as brilliant colors, but the scales also reflect UV waves, which other butterflies can pick up on for communication.”

Why Can’t Butterflies See Their Wings

Butterflies can see their wings. The idea that they can’t see themselves has become an urban myth, but it’s not based on a true story. How a butterfly’s wings appear is vital to its success both individually and as a species.

Bright-colored wings are a warning to predators that this bug is toxic. Additionally, the eye-like spots on many butterfly species make them appear much larger and more formidable than they are.

However, for each individual male butterfly, their unique markings determine how likely they are to get lucky during mating season.

A male with desirable ultraviolet patterns will catch the interest of female butterflies, and he gets to mate.

Meanwhile, a female who spots an undesirable male will physically change her posture to make her own wings look unappealing until he loses interest and leaves her alone.

Do Butterflies Have 360 Vision

Butterflies have nearly 360 degree vision, but they also have some intriguing limitations and quirks to their vision.

For example, they don’t have a sense of self-awareness, but they recognize other conspecifics (members of their species). Females use UV to assess male butterflies as mates based on their wings.

All butterflies see in monocular instead of binocular vision, so they likely have little to no 3D capabilities and are nearsighted.

A butterfly doesn’t see things in the distance very well. However, they don’t need to spot things miles away to avoid predators and flit from flower to flower.

According to NSF.gov, “Some species of butterflies, like the empress Leilia (Asterocampa leilia), have a visual field of about 344 degrees on the horizontal plane–only 16 degrees short of seeing all the way around its body. And vertically it is almost a full 360 degrees. The average human has a visual field of only 190 degrees. This wide field of vision helps protect them from predators, particularly birds. Most butterfly species have visual fields that are equally impressive.”

Are Butterflies Color Blind

Butterflies are not colorblind. More importantly, their sense of color is incredible.

Humans have three color vision with blue, green, and red cones known as photoreceptors in our eyes, unlike dogs who lack the red-green distinction and see mostly in shades of yellow and blue. Some creatures have ultraviolet cones as well.

Butterflies have six or more types of photoreceptors in their eyes, perceiving wavelengths from 254 to 600 nm. That means they can see more colors than you, and I. Very few creatures can see more colors than a butterfly.

Butterflies Eyes

Butterflies have two types of eyes. The so-called single eyes have one chamber and are used for focusing on specific single items.

Meanwhile, they also have a set of compound eyes that have around twelve thousand segments. It’s the latter that these clever insects use to see most of the way around their bodies in every direction.

Helpful Tips To Know If Butterflies Can See Their Wings

Butterflies can see their wings with their incredible eyesight. In fact, these surprising beauties use their wings colors for a lot more than we previously understood by changing the UV light they emit.

While humans can’t see it, a lot of other species can perceive these unique ultraviolet wing colors, including the butterflies themselves.

Here are more helpful tips to know if butterflies can see their wings.

  • Author Naya Rivera famously said, “Butterflies can’t see their wings. They can’t see how truly beautiful they are, but everyone else can. People are like that as well.” It sounded so good that people have been repeating it ever since. However, the lovely poetic notion is pure fiction, and not based on science.
  • The eyespot or ocellus on some butterfly’s wings is a clever defense mechanism. While these ‘eyes’ can’t see anything, they mimic a much larger creature and give predators pause. Merely having these unusual, eye-like marks can save a butterfly’s life by convincing another animal that they are looking at the face of some exotic and larger creature.
  • Butterflies have six or more photoreceptive cones in their eyes, giving them a vast range of color vision. However, a Mantis shrimp has a stunning 16 cones in its eyes, meaning these small aquatic creatures see more colors than anything else on earth, including butterflies.

Final Thoughts

Butterflies have very short, yet incredibly colorful and versatile lives. Many start out as blind or nearly blind caterpillars, who can only crawl and eat, but soon enough they weave a chrysalis and metamorphose into dazzling, dynamic flyers with wonderful wings.

It would be really sad if a butterfly never got to see its own wings, but lucky for them, it’s not an issue.

Not only do butterflies see their stunning wings, but they can perceive and change parts of them that humans will never view. These lovely insects know their own beauty in ways we cannot.

Ted Smith

My name is Ted Smith and I’m the creator of AnimalThrill.com. I have a passion for educating people about animals and wildlife. I have been working with the National Wildlife Federation for the past 10 years and I became a wildlife blogger to help people become excited about animals and encouraged to care for these wonderful creatures.

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