10 Rarest Butterflies in the World

Written by AZ Animals Staff
Updated: June 2, 2022
Image Credit Dennis van de Water/Shutterstock.com
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Butterflies are some of the most beautiful creatures on this planet. They enthrall people with their delicacy, innocence, and jewel-like colors. They’re not only beautiful, but as pollinators of all sorts of plants, they’re necessary. Some butterflies have always been rare, but due to habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change, too many of them are endangered as well. Here is a list of some of the rarest types of butterflies:

#10. Blue Morpho

Rarest Butterflies in the World
Blue Morpho Butterfly, Morpho peleides. Their vivid, iridescent blue coloring is a result of the microscopic scales on the backs of their wings, which reflect light.

Cristian Gusa/Shutterstock.com

With a 5.5 inch wingspan, this big, gorgeous sapphire blue butterfly is native to the rainforests of Central and South America. Both males and females have iridescent blue wings, though the wings of the females are edged in brown and have white spots. The undersides of the wings are brown with orange eyespots outlined in bronze and brown, and the wings of the females have a broken bronze band. Males like to chase each other through the rainforest and one-way collectors catch them is to wave a blue piece of cloth where they can see it. The blue morpho feeds on the juices of rotting fruit. The red and green caterpillar is nocturnal and fond of the leaves of Erythroxylum and members of the pea family. This butterfly is endangered due to habitat loss and collection.

#9. Island Marble Butterfly

Island Marble Butterfly
Island marble butterfly sitting on a leaf. Although several small populations have been found in recent years, there is only one potentially viable population of approximately 200 island marble butterflies.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / public domain

This butterfly is endemic to Washington state’s San Juan Islands. Once believed to be extinct, it was found in 1998 and has been listed as endangered since 2020. It’s a subspecies of a butterfly called the Large Marble.

The Island Marble’s wings have a fascinating color scheme of marbled green and white, and it feeds on the flowers of the wild mustard. It has a wingspan of between 1.5 and 2 inches, and the caterpillar is about 3/4 of an inch long. It’s green or blue-gray and dotted in black with white with yellow stripes down its back and sides. The butterfly’s ideal habitat seems to be the prairie, but prairies, like the butterfly itself are becoming rarer and rarer. Scientists believe there are only about 200 of these butterflies left in the wild.

#8. Schaus Swallowtail

Rarest Butterflies in the World
One of the reasons the Schaus Swallowtail is unique is because it can stop suddenly in mid-air and fly backwards to avoid its predators.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region / Creative Commons – License

Native to southern Florida down into the Caribbean, this swallowtail has a 3.25 to 3.75-inch wingspan and has blackish-brown wings with yellow markings. The underside of the hindwings has a rust-colored patch decorated with powdery blue blotches. The females and males can be told apart because the female has all black antennae while the male’s are black and tipped with yellow. The butterfly is famous for being able to fly great distances, which means that it can hop from one of the Florida keys to the other. At one time there were only a few hundred butterflies in Florida, but thanks to a captive breeding program, there are about 800 to 1200 butterflies in the wild. Still, Schaus swallowtail’s conservation status is vulnerable and it’s now only found in southern Florida.

#7. Kaiser-i-Hind

Rarest Butterflies in the World
A male Kaiser-i-Hind or Emperor of India Butterfly, Teinopalpus imperialis, sitting on a bright yellow flower.

Danita Delimont/Shutterstock.com

Also called the Emperor of India, this butterfly is found in the eastern Himalayan mountains and is unmistakable because it is largely a lush, grass green. Scientists are still trying to puzzle out how the scales on the wings produce such a vivid color. Males can be told from females because they’re smaller than females and have a yellow patch on the hind wing. The female also has more tails on her hindwing, and she’s a bit duskier. The caterpillar eats the leaves of Daphne shrubs.

Because the butterfly has such spectacular looks it is sought after by collectors even though it is protected by both India and Nepal. The butterfly, which is related to similar types of butterflies and is hard to tell apart from them, lives at altitudes of 6000 and 10,000 feet. Its status is near threatened.

#6. Zebra Longwing

Rarest Butterflies in the World
The zebra longwing butterfly is found throughout Florida in hardwood hammocks, thickets, gardens, and particularly in the Everglades National Park.

Julee75/Shutterstock.com

The coloration of this butterfly reminds people of the black and white stripes of a zebra even though if you look closely there are red spots at the base of the wings, which have a span of 2.8 to 3.9 inches. It is native to South and Central America and can be found in some parts of the southern United States. This makes its range unusually large for a butterfly. The zebra longwing roosts in large groups to protect against predators. Moreover, they are unusual for butterflies in that they eat pollen, and their bodies transform it into chemicals that make the butterfly toxic. Not only this, the ingestion of pollen makes the zebra longwing live much longer than other butterflies. As of 2021, the butterfly’s conservation status is secure, but pesticides have devastated its Florida population. Like honeybees, the butterfly has also suffered colony collapse.

#5. Chimaera Birdwing

Rarest Butterflies in the World
A male Chimaera Birdwing with brigh green and yellow wings. This large and sensationally colorful butterfly is found in the mountains of New Guinea.

Anaxibia / Creative Commons – License

This large and sensationally colorful butterfly is found in the mountains of New Guinea. The male is brilliant green and yellow, with splashes of black. The female, who’s bigger than the male, is dark brown with white spots on her forewings. Her hindwings are mostly white and spotted with black. The wingspan of the Chimaera birdwing is 2.76 to 5.9 inches in males and 3.15 to 7.09 inches in females. The adults sip nectar from Spathodea and hibiscus plants while the caterpillars eat the leaves of the pipevine. As can be expected, collectors are eager for this butterfly, but a permit is required to collect it. As of 2021 it is considered near threatened.

Go here for more information about the Chimaera birdwing.

#4. Bhutan Glory

Rarest Butterflies in the World
The Bhutan Glory faces its most immediate threat from habitat loss due to the ongoing deforestation of its native habitat.

Butterfly Hunter/Shutterstock.com

The Bhutan glory is a swallowtail butterfly, but it’s unusual in that its forewings are oval-shaped. The edge of the wing that’s farthest from the body is convex, and the hindwings have many tails. The overall color of this butterfly is black, but it is adorned with wavy white or cream vertical lines. The hindwings have a large orange patch, there are blue-black and white eyespots and spots of yellow right above the tails. It’s found in the Himalayan mountains at elevations of between 5000 and 9000 feet and has a flight that’s described as drifting. The caterpillar eats species of the pipevine, which probably makes it bad-tasting to predators.

Though its conservation status is least concern, the Bhutan glory’s population is decreasing due to habitat loss.

#3. Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing

Rarest Butterflies in the World
A Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterfly perched on a green leaf. It the largest butterfly in the world and is endangered.

Russell Marshall/Shutterstock.com

Named after a Queen of England, the females of this huge butterfly can have a wingspan of between 9.8 and 11 inches and weigh as much as 0.42 ounces. Their wings are brown and white, but the smaller males are sparkling blue-green and banded in black, with a green or blue-green underside. This butterfly is only found in Papua New Guinea’s Oro Province. Because it is so rare and endangered, the trade in these butterflies is illegal. Adults feed on hibiscus and other plants strong enough to support their weight early in the morning and early in the evening. Males are territorial and will even see off small birds. Humans aren’t the only reason that the butterfly is endangered. It still hasn’t recovered from a volcanic eruption that wiped out much of its habitat in 1951.

For more information about Queen Alexandra’s birdwing read this.

#2. Miami Blue

Rarest Butterflies in the World
The Miami Blue butterfly is now one of Florida’s most endangered insects with a single remaining extant population supporting less than 100 individuals.

pixelworlds/Shutterstock.com

Interestingly, a good number of endangered butterflies belong to the Lycaenidae family. These little butterflies are called blues due to the color of their wings. The population of the Miami blue from southern Florida has taken a series of hits over the years. Once common, it was decimated by development starting in the 1980s. Then, in 1992 Hurricane Andrew almost wiped it out altogether. Fortunately, a handful was discovered in Bahia Honda State Park in 1999. The Miami blue is now endangered though there’s a captive breeding program run by Florida’s Museum of Natural History in Gainesville.

The Miami blue has a wingspan of only 0.87 to a little over an inch. The wings, as its name says, are bright blue in the males, while they are gray with a bit of blue near the base in the females. The hind wings are edged in white and have four spots. The butterfly chooses several types of plants as host plants for its caterpillar, including blackbeads, nickerbeads, peacock flowers, and balloon vines.

#1. Palos Verdes Blue

Rarest Butterflies in the World
Palos Verdes Blue Butterfly on green grass. They are thought to be one of the rarest species of butterflies found in the world because they are endemic to their very small range of habitat.

Katerina Iacovides/Shutterstock.com

This little butterfly with its cerulean blue wings and body is in competition with the Miami blue to be the rarest butterfly in the world. A subspecies of the silvery blue, it is found in California’s Palos Verdes Peninsula. One reason for its endangered status is that it uses only the common deer weed as a host plant, and this plant has become scarce as its habitat is being converted into housing. Because of this, homeowners in the area are encouraged to plant deer weed.

The wingspan of the Palos Verdes blue butterfly is only a little larger than that of the Miami blue, and the male’s wings are more silvery blue than those of its distant cousin. The breeding season lasts from January to early May and coincides with the butterflies’ emergence from their pupae. This is a good thing as the Palos Verdes blue only lives five days as an adult.

Next Up: What is a Keystone Species?

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