How Fast Can Butterflies Fly?

Flying insects come across several challenges in flight and have varying flying speeds according to their abilities to manage their flight. In the same way, butterflies also deal with air resistance and weather challenges to move. Generally, they are slow fliers, but a few have a high rate of wingbeats due to high muscular strength.

How Fast Can Butterflies Fly? Butterflies can fly at a speed of 10 to 20mph (16 to 32 km/h) on average, but skipper butterflies can fly fast with a speed of 30 to 37mph (48.2 to 59.5 km/h). However, the swallowtail butterflies are slowest as their wings move at 5 beats per second, while others move at 10 beats per second. Small butterflies can move faster than larger ones as they have less body mass and strong bodies.

The direction of the wind is the topmost factor significantly affecting the flying speed of butterflies, as they can move quickly if the tailwind is blowing. Crosswinds cause disturbances in stability by pushing them in directions different from their flight paths. Some other factors also influence their flying behavior, including body mass and size.

How fast can butterflies fly in the air?

Different species of butterflies have varying capabilities to maintain a flying position in the air according to their body size and weight.

On average, they can fly at a speed of 10 to 20 miles per hour (16 to 20km/h), which means their flying rate is almost equal to the average speed of dragonflies (9.9mph).

Their speed is almost equal to the average speed of insects, which is around 13mph or 21 km/h. Moreover, they are much faster fliers than crickets that can fly at 3.5mph or 5.6km/h.

In addition, you can also compare their flying speed with the speed of a horse running on their ground. The horse usually runs at a rate of 12 to 16mph, which equals 19 to 25km/h.

So, it indicates that a few fast-flying species of butterflies can match the speed of a running horse. It is only possible due to their incredible maneuverability and quick reflexes. With this speed, they can even cross the ocean during their migration.

They can fly faster than Hawkmoth, and the Common Cleg has a 33.1mph and 31.2mph speed. However, some slow butterflies also exist in nature and can fly at a rate of 5mph or 8km/h.

Furthermore, they are slow-fliers than many fast-flying insects, like male horsefly and brown plant hopper that can move at a speed of 90.5mph (145.6km/h) and 50mph (80.4km/h).

So, their top speed is 15 to 20mph (24 to 32km/h) on average, but it increases in a few species that can manage their flying speed efficiently.

Butterfly name Flying speed in Miles per hour Flying speed in Kilometer per hour
Checkered Skipper Butterfly 30 to 37 mph 48.2 to 59.5 km/h
Painted Lady Butterflies 22 to 25 mph 35 to 40 km/h
Monarch Butterflies 5 to 12 mph 8 to 19 km/h
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly 12 mph 19 km/h
Blue Morpho Butterflies 10 to 12 mph 16 to 19 km/h

What factors affect the flying speed of butterflies?

A few external and biological factors affect the flying speed of butterflies when they are trying to move against the air. It is easy to move in the direction of air as it gives a push to their bodies.

However, they have to deal with several challenges during flight, like changes in temperature, wind speed, predators, and time of day. Their age, gender, and strength also affect their speed.

Changes in temperature affect the speed of butterflies because they are ectothermic. Their bodies cannot tolerate extremely hot and cold conditions and get slower during migration.

The efficiency of their muscular bodies reduces in cold weather, and warm temperature favors the quick contraction of muscles. In addition, their metabolic rate also increases in warm conditions.

High metabolic rates support fast flying, while cold conditions ultimately lead to decreased metabolic rate and slow speed. They remain more agile and active in mild or slightly warm weather.

Moreover, the humidity level and air direction determine their speed, as these factors can make them slow or fast fliers. The tailwinds support their flying behavior and increase speed.

In addition, age matters a lot when they try to engage in flight because adult butterflies can move their wings faster than young ones.

The male and female butterflies have varying body sizes, as females are typically larger and slower than their partners. They try to move their wings quickly if predators chase them in the air.

Also, they have different body strengths as healthy insects have more muscular mass to control their wingbeats, while weaker ones cannot move their wings quickly.

Furthermore, they are diurnal insects that remain active during the daytime and adapt to move and forage in the daylight. Their flying abilities are not good at night, so they move slowly.

How fast do butterfly wings move?

The butterflies have varying abilities to move their wings depending on the air current and external environment, like level of humidity and temperature.

On average, their wings beat at a speed of 10 beats per second, which is considered slower when compared with other creatures that are able to engage in flight.

Honeybees move their wings at a higher speed than butterflies, as they can move them at a rate of 200 beats per second.

Midges have the fastest wingbeat and move their wings for 62,760 beats in a minute. Their lightweight body and small size improve their speed of moving wings.

However, a hummingbird has a wingbeat of around 70 times per second because they have slightly larger bodies than tiny insects.

Some butterflies also move at slower wing beats of around 5 to 7 beats per second as they have large wings relative to their body size. So, wingbeats vary among different species of insects.

What are the slowest and fastest flying butterflies?

Butterflies are generally slow fliers among insects, but a few species can attain high speed while flying. It primarily depends on their wingspan and body weight.

The fastest species is the Checkered Skipper Butterfly, and the Skippers Group contains a large number of these insects known for their quick speed.

Moreover, they can fly at a speed of 30 to 37mph or 48.2 to 59.5km/h, the highest among all flying insects belonging to the Hesperiidae family.

They are named skippers for their distinctive, fast flight and antennae. They are further divided into two groups: spread-wing skippers and folded-wing skippers.

However, the slowest species is the swallowtail butterfly, which can only beat wings at a slow speed of approximately 5 beats per second.

It is the slowest number of beats among butterflies, as they can cover several miles per hour. These are named for their tail because their tails are forked from the back end.

Furthermore, it is one of the popular species present in gardens or commonly seen in backyards. However, they have a short lifespan of around 28 to 20 days, while some can live for 45 days.

Do small butterflies fly faster than big butterflies?

Size variations directly influence the flying speed of butterflies because smaller ones can easily move in the air due to lesser resistance on their bodies.

Moreover, the smaller insects have less air resistance and drag because they have lightweight bodies, as painted lady butterflies have a smaller wingspan of 1.4 to 2 inches.

They can cover around 22 to 25 miles per hour (35 to 40km/h), considered more than the larger monarch butterflies. These can only fly 5 to 12 miles per hour or 8 to 19km/h.

It indicates that monarch butterflies, having a broader wingspan of 3.5 to 4 inches, fly at a lower speed than other smaller species.

In addition, cabbage white butterflies have wingspans of approximately 1.25 to 1.875 inches, which are in medium size. It flaps its wings at a speed of 12.8 flaps in one second, which is an average wingbeat.

The eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly can fly 12 miles per hour because they are large, having 3 to 5.5 inches wingspan.

Furthermore, blue morpho butterflies are the largest as their wingspan ranges between 6 to 8 inches and cover almost 10 to 12 miles per hour.

So, their flying speeds indicate that larger species of butterflies move slower than smaller ones due to bigger bodies having more muscular mass.

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