Owl Butterfly

Last updated: November 15, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit Roberto Dantoni/Shutterstock.com

Owl butterflies derive their name from big spots on each hindwing that resemble owl eyes

Owl Butterfly Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Arthropoda
Class
Insecta
Order
Lepidoptera
Family
Nymphalidae
Genus
Caligo

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Owl Butterfly Conservation Status


Owl Butterfly Facts

Name Of Young
Caterpillar
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
Fun Fact
Owl butterflies derive their name from big spots on each hindwing that resemble owl eyes
Biggest Threat
Deforestation
Most Distinctive Feature
Large eyespots on their wings
Wingspan
8 inches
Incubation Period
2 to 3 weeks
Habitat
Dense rainforests
Predators
Birds, lizards, Chameleons, frogs, and toads
Diet
Herbivore
Lifestyle
  • Nocturnal
Favorite Food
Flower sap
Common Name
Owl butterfly
Origin
Central America
Number Of Species
19

Owl Butterfly Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Yellow
  • Tan
Skin Type
Scales
Lifespan
133 days
Height
1 to 4 inches

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The owl butterfly is a fascinating specimen native to the rainforests of Central America. They derive their name from big spots on each hindwing that resemble owl eyes. These spots are not decorative; they are a defense mechanism used to deter birds from eating them.

This species belongs to the family Nymphalidae, consisting of large-sized butterflies that usually flatten their wings while resting.

There are several species of owl butterflies, but not much color variation; they can either be brown or tan, and some may have yellow or orange borders on their wingtips. In addition, they are all large and flashy, with wide wingspans of up to 8 inches and long antennae.

Sadly, they don’t have a very long lifespan and generally die after a month due to natural causes or predation.

Types of Owl Butterfly and their Scientific Names

Owl butterflies belong to the genus Caligo, which consists of 20 species, including the following:

  • Brazilian owl – Caligo brasiliensis
  • Forest giant owl – Caligo eurilochus
  • Giant owl – Caligo memnon
  • Yellow-fronted owl – Caligo telamonius
  • Boomerang owl – Caligo Oedipus
  • Purple owl – Caligo beltrao

The owl butterfly belongs to the order Lepidoptera, distinguished by the scales on its wings and other external body parts. The name of this order was derived from the Greek words “lepido,” meaning scaly, and “ptera,” for wings.

These butterflies are equipped with tubular mouthparts that help them suck nectar from flowers. In addition, adults typically have two pairs of wings.

Owl butterflies are members of the Nymphalidae family, consisting of 6,000 species, making it the biggest family of butterflies on the planet. Nymphalidae belongs to the superfamily Papilionoidea, which consists of medium-large-sized butterflies.

Most members of this superfamily have reduced forelegs, and some species hold their striking wings flat when resting.

Appearance: How to Identify the Owl Butterfly

The owl butterfly is quite large, as its wingspan can measure up to 8 inches and they grow 1 to 4 inches tall. In addition, it is hard to miss the large eyespots on each hindwing that resemble an owl’s face. They can either be brown or tan, and some may have yellow or orange borders on their wingtips.

owl butterfly
Owl butterflies have large eyespots on each hindwing that resemble an owl’s face.

Adam Konigsmark/Shutterstock.com

Owl Butterfly Behavior

Surprisingly, the owl butterfly is nocturnal and lives in the rainforests of Central America. These solitary butterflies emerge during the early morning hours or at dusk because they can’t fly very far, making them easy targets. Therefore, they only appear once most animals are asleep.

Habitat: Where to Find the Owl Butterfly

Owl butterflies enjoy a humid climate and inhabit the dense rainforests of Central America, South America, and Mexico. Although they enjoy rainfall, they do not live in areas with heavy downpours. In addition, they are often spotted near banana plantations or agricultural lands where they prefer to lay their eggs.

Diet: What Do Owl Butterflies Eat?

Owl butterflies feed on the sap of forest flowers and dung of large mammals and have become quite a nuisance in sugar cane plantations.

Although they are solitary, when kept in captivity, they are unphased by feeding in large groups and live off of the juices from fermenting fruit, like pineapple, mango, and banana.

Owl Butterfly Predators and Threats

The owl butterflies’ main predators include:

  • Birds
  • Lizards
  • Chameleons
  • Frogs
  • Toads

Unfortunately, they are not long-range fliers, only moving a few feet at a time, which makes them easy targets for birds. So, they only emerge at night or in the early morning to avoid getting caught.

In addition, predators may be spooked by the large owl-eye dots on their wings. However, this defense mechanism doesn’t always work, and predators will attack the outer edge of their wings instead of their bodies.

Owl butterflies are severely threatened by habitat fragmentation and the deforestation of tropical forests. In addition, humans directly pose a threat to their population numbers because there are thousands of artists and collectors that want to capture and display this majestic insect.

Life Cycle of the Owl Butterfly

The life cycle of owl butterflies differs depending on the species, but they generally last up to 133 days. It takes two to three weeks for the larvae to hatch, and once they develop into caterpillars, they stay in that stage for approximately two months. Next, caterpillars molt into a chrysalis, where they remain for 30 days.

Eggs

Owl butterflies generally lay their eggs in groups and sometimes singularly. Females prefer to lay their eggs on Heliconia leaves; however, their eggs are often prey to wasps who ride on the backs of butterflies’ wings.

The eggs are covered in ribs that protect them from all angles and prevent water loss without hindering the larvae’s breathing ability.

Caterpillars

Caterpillars are nocturnal; however, unlike adults, they are social little creatures. When they start to darken slightly, it means they are in their pupating stage.

These caterpillars use sile to hang themselves upside down on plants while the chrysalis’ skin forms around them. During this phase, they are inactive and must camouflage on dead leaves. In addition, researchers believe that they have some sort of defense mechanism that keep pesky ants at bay.

Adults

Once these insects emerge from their chrysalis, they have completely transformed into breathtaking butterflies. But this new look doesn’t last long as adults’ sole purpose is to mate and reproduce, which they attempt as soon as they leave the chrysalis.

The urgency is due to their rapid aging process because their wings become frail and tattered as they age. Wings in this condition make it hard to fly as far as they generally would, and females won’t be capable of scattering their eggs effectively. Sadly, their adult stage only lasts around 30 days.

Owl Butterfly Population

Due to deforestation, several species of owl butterflies are considered endangered or extinct. Although they have flourished for centuries, their population numbers continue to decrease each year because of illegal trade with European collectors and excessive logging. However, conservation efforts are in effect to help save these magnificent creatures from extinction.

Are Owl Butterflies Pests?

While owl butterflies can spend most of their days drinking fermented banana juice, they don’t pose any significant threats to crops. However, the caterpillars are considered major pests of sugar cane and banana plantations because of the large number of plants they can consume.

As they are such problematic pests, researchers are doing a lot of work with parasitic wasps to try and find a natural control agent.

Other Butterfly Species with Eyes on Their Wings

The owl butterfly is not the only one who has this defense mechanism. There are several butterfly species with eyes on their wings, including the following:

Northern Pearly Eye

The northern pearly eye has black eyespots surrounded by yellow rings, with a small white pupil in the center. Unlike the owl butterfly, adult northern pearly-eyes do not drink flower nectar. Instead, they suck out liquids from tree sap, fungi, rotting animals, and feces.

European Peacock Butterfly

These butterflies are known for their magnificent colorful red wings and intimidating eyespots. They occur in most of Europe, and there have been some sightings in Asia, primarily Japan.

Peacock butterflies are very adaptable and thrive in various habitats like parks, gardens, farmlands, and woodlands.

Lemon Pansy

The lemon pansy butterfly has several eye spots. In addition, they have black and lemon-yellow spots and stripes on the upper side of their wings.

These butterflies belong to the Nymphalidae family and are native to south Asia. They inhabit fallow land, open wooded areas, and gardens.

View all 48 animals that start with O

About the Author

I am a 33-year-old creative and professional writer from South Africa. Wildlife is one of my greatest passions and led me to become the writer I am today. I was very blessed to work with an abundance of wildlife (mainly big cats) and captured my unique experiences in writing. But I wanted to take it further, and I ventured into the freelancing world. Now, I get to spend my days writing about animals; what could be better?

Owl Butterfly FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is the owl butterfly called?

The owl butterfly is a fascinating specimen native to the rainforests of Central America. They derive their name from big spots on each hindwing that resemble owl eyes.

What eats the owl butterfly?

The owl butterflies’ main predators include:
• Birds
• Lizards
• Chameleons
• Frogs
• Toads

Is the owl butterfly an insect?

Yes, owl butterflies are classified as insects.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owl_butterfly
  2. Anywhere.com, Available here: https://www.anywhere.com/flora-fauna/invertebrates/owl-butterfly
  3. Best Pest World, Available here: https://bestpestworld.com/insects/butterfly/owl-butterfly/

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