Humans love to assign human characteristics and emotions to other living creatures, but is it real? We know that mammals like cats and dogs feel fear, affection, loyalty, and other emotions, but insects like butterflies are substantially harder to assess.
Unfortunately, we can’t ask and lack tiny electrodes to measure their brain activity. Do butterflies have emotions?
Even though a butterfly has a brain that indicates a positive and negative emotional arousal, it is only used for flight, memory and controlling their bodies. They don’t have emotions or self-awareness and they don’t feel pain. Without any sense of self, there is nothing to fear. Butterflies don’t feel pain because they don’t have a nervous system with pain receptors.
Table of Contents
Can Butterflies Feel Emotion
There haven’t been enough studies to prove that butterflies feel emotion, and regrettably, what information we do have isn’t enough to show a good argument for butterflies having feelings.
We know that they can remember, even as far back as when they were caterpillars. More importantly, butterflies can learn from past experiences.
A butterfly can think. They possess brains used for flight, memory, and controlling their bodies in ways we can recognize. Intriguingly, there is also no reason why they couldn’t feel emotion.
The trouble is that any expression of that emotion comes out in a manner so foreign to humans that we don’t know what we’re seeing if it exists.
Can Butterflies Feel Love
When humans fall in love or at least feel strong sexual attraction, we often describe the sensation as ‘butterflies in the stomach.’
Furthermore, we associate love with idealized springtime images like flower gardens and fields full of butterflies, but that has nothing to do with how or if butterflies feel love.
It’s easy to assume they must be romantic merely from the context we give them when we romanticize them.
Love is likely an evolutionary result of thousands of generations of breeding. When we feel love, it is a chemical rush causing a rewarding sensation in our heads and bodies.
For humans and other species that co-parent, this feeling is beneficial to the survival of our genetic line.
We typically have only one child at a time rather than laying dozens or hundreds of eggs, so their survival becomes an issue of extreme importance biologically.
So the question becomes, ‘do butterflies parent, and if they do, are both parents involved in raising the young?’ The answer here is a resounding no. However, a pair of butterflies may spend a day together mating.
According to Monarch Joint Venture, “When they mate, they remain together from one afternoon until early the next morning—often up to 16 hours! Females begin laying eggs immediately after their first mating, and both sexes can mate several times during their lives.”
Do they feel an emotional attachment, or is it just an extended fling based on desirable mating characteristics and a practical approach to pass them on?
If it’s love, then it is very short-lived. Afterward, they move on and may continue mating, typically with other butterflies for up to five weeks.
Do Butterflies Feel Pain
Butterflies probably don’t feel emotional pain. More interestingly, they also do not appear to experience physical pain. To register the feeling of pain, you need a nervous system with pain receptors, and butterflies don’t have this trait.
A butterfly can sense pressure and know when an outside force moves it. So, for example, they know if you touch them, but it doesn’t feel pleasurable or painful to have their bodies move.
According to Bear Mountain Butterflies tips on raising butterflies, when you end up with one that can’t survive on its own, you need to know the following” “..don’t blame yourself. If it will feed, take care of it as you wish. Butterflies feel no pain, but if you think it can’t survive, a gentle way to send it on to “Butterfly Heaven” is to place it in a small sandwich bag in your freezer.”
Do Butterflies Feel Fear
According to current scientific understanding, butterflies have no self-awareness. You need to be aware that you exist and think of yourself as present and vital to feel fear. Without any sense of self, there is nothing to fear except pain.
I’ve already established, butterflies have no nerve endings. As a result, it’s hard to envision a scenario where fear would be necessary or have any reason to evolve in this species.
When nothing hurts, and you cannot imagine losing your life because you aren’t conscious enough to understand that you exist, there’s no way for fear to gain a foothold and no use for it as a survival skill.
Instead, butterflies use their wings to avoid death. First, they are brightly colored, which in nature usually indicates the presence of toxins.
Secondly, according to American Scientist, they flap in erratic patterns making them hard to catch. As a result, “Butterflies need their hind wings not to stay aloft but to evade predators.”
Can Butterflies Feel Rage
Like other emotions, rage evolves for a purpose. Since butterflies have no reason to use rage as a survival mechanism, they don’t feel it.
Moreover, they don’t need emotions or self-awareness to go through their life cycles. Anger, rage, resentment, jealousy, or a sense of unjustness wouldn’t make a butterfly’s life better or positively impact its life cycle.
They are a living example of the ‘ignorance is bliss’ idea.
Helpful Tips To Know If Butterflies Have Emotions
Although I can’t be a hundred percent certain because the scientists who study insects (entomologists) don’t have solid answers, it’s an educated guess to say butterflies don’t have feelings.
While they have everything they need to evolve emotion physically, they lack a survival-based motivation.
Here are more helpful tips to know if butterflies have emotions.
- Humans are prone to assigning our own emotional traits to things we like. Anything that we find beautiful surely must be capable of seeing the beauty and feeling awe and appreciation… right? Sadly, it turns out that this is not the case, even when that beauty is a living creature like the butterfly.
- For a butterfly or any living creature to develop emotions, they need to serve an evolutionary purpose. Rage focuses anger making your destructive capabilities more extraordinary, but butterflies are not destroyers. Fear makes you wary, but butterflies advertise that they are toxic, and many are. Plus, they flap randomly to evade any predators and can survive and fly with all their bottom wings gone, so they don’t need much protection. Love brings two mature animals together for mutual benefit, usually raising young or providing security, and butterflies don’t need that either. Emotions would only literally weigh them down because they’d need a bigger brain to process them.
- Butterflies lack physical feelings as well. Since they don’t have nerve endings, they are spared from pain.
Butterflies are beautiful and most likely also blissfully free of emotional encumbrances. There’s no objective evidence that a butterfly reacts to anything emotionally.
However, these lovely insects do have memories and the ability to learn. They can feel hunger and exhaustion, but those are not the same as love, fear, and rage.
It’s likely that most of their brainpower is used for their highly sophisticated navigation and flight systems. Some studies show that bees and some other insects have the cognitive, physiological, and behavioral building blocks that could lead to evolving emotions in the future.
Someday butterflies may have complex emotions like frustration, angst, and admiration, but at least for now, it’s improbable.