Even big butterflies are small in size. Even the largest ones, like the Queen Alexandra Birdwing, with a wingspan of 11 inches and a weight of 0.42 ounces, are able to be easily held in a man’s hand. But there are butterflies whose size is truly minuscule, for they evolved to be able to pollinate the smallest flowers or fill some other niche that can’t be filled by the bigger boys and girls. This article lists 10 of the smallest butterflies in the world, from the largest of the smallest to the tiniest.
#10. Smallest Butterflies: Woolly Legs
Woolly legs, with a wingspan of 3/4 to 1.25 inches, is found in Sub-Saharan Africa. It belongs to the same family as the blue butterflies, and as in the blues, the female is a little larger than the male. It is a rather drab insect with wings and body in shades of brown and white, and it is often mistaken for a moth. Its name is apt because it does indeed have strange-looking wooly legs. The reason for this is because instead of nectar, they drink the honeydew made by aphids. Ants also like the honeydew produced by aphids, and the butterfly has grown fluffy legs to protect against their bites and stings. The caterpillar of the woolly legs also eats aphids and scale insects and is welcomed in the garden.
#9. Smallest Butterflies: Eastern Tailed Blue
The blue butterflies, which belong to the Lycaenidae family of butterflies, are some of the smallest in size. This butterfly, with a wingspan of 3/4 of an inch to 1 inch wide, is one of the largest of the smallest. It’s found mainly in eastern North America but is also found in Central America, up the west coast of the United States, and into southern Canada. The wings of the males are a beautiful purple-blue, while those of the females are grayish but sometimes with hints of blue. The underwings are grayish-white with eyespots on each hind wing. The butterfly gets its name because the hindwings each have a tiny tail.
The caterpillar of the eastern tailed blue is dark green with brown and pale green stripes. It feeds on clover and legumes.
#8. Smallest Butterflies: Least Skipper
The least skipper belongs to a huge family of butterflies known for their antennae, which are spaced farther apart than in other butterflies and end in curves. They seem to skip from one plant to the other, which gives them their name. The least is the smallest of the skippers with its 3/4 inch wingspan. It is found east of the Rocky Mountains in marshy areas and often flies low to the ground. The tops of its hind wings are orange while the forewings are brown with orange patches. The underwings are paler orange, and the antennae are clubbed but not curved like those of other skippers.
The least skipper breeds two to four times a year and can be seen from spring to late summer in its northern range and in all but the coldest months in its southern range. In southern Florida, the butterfly is found all year. The host plants for the caterpillar include rice, panic grass, cordgrass, and marsh millet.
#7. Smallest Butterflies: Little Metalmark
The little metalmark has a wingspan of 3/4 of an inch and gets its name because its wings bear what looks like metallic markings. It is a North American butterfly that’s largely found in the southeastern United States in uplands, along roads, in pine savannas and sandhills. The wings have a lacy pattern of orange and black and shiny silver. Its eggs are flattened and honeycombed, and the caterpillar is light green and covered with long, bristly hairs. Later, the pupa incorporates the long hair into itself.
This butterfly prefers asters, thistles and other ray flowers, and females lay their eggs one at a time on the undersides of the leaves. The caterpillars are nocturnal and leave little windows in the leaves after they’ve eaten.
#6. Smallest Butterflies: Marine Blue
A bit bigger and of more weight than its western pygmy blue cousin, this butterfly of North and Central America has a 3/4 inch wingspan. It shows up later in the spring than other blues and in its southern range, it is found year-round. The tops of the wings are purplish-blue on the male, while they are brown with areas of blue on the female. The underside of the wing is tiger-striped light brown and white with blue eyespots on the hind wing.
The marine blue visits a wide variety of flowers including wild buckwheat, wild peas, wild licorice, wisteria, and plumbago. As with other blue butterflies, the caterpillar is sometimes “milked” for its honeydew by ants.
#5. Smallest Butterflies: Common Sootywing
As its name implies, this little butterfly with a 1/4 inch to 1.25-inch wide wingspan has sooty brown wings with white speckles. The hindwings are nearly as large as the forewings or may be even larger, which is a character trait of Sootywings. This insect is found in North America from central Canada down to northern Mexico. It is found in the mountains and farmland and is usually seen from spring to fall. The caterpillar has a dark head and a pale green body and uses amaranth as a host plant.
#4. Smallest Butterflies: Cramer’s Mesene
The brilliant orange-red wings of this little butterfly warn potential predators that it is poisonous. The males are more vividly colored, and the females are larger, a little duller, and can be thought to have a greater weight. The wings of both sexes have black borders, and the forewings are sharply angled with reddish-black undersides. The wingspan of the Cramer’s Mesene ranges from 1/4 of an inch to about an inch.
Cramer’s Mesene is found in the tropics of South and Central America. It most likely gets its poison from the fact that its caterpillar feeds on the leaves of the Paulinia pinnata plant, which is highly toxic.
#3. Smallest Butterflies: Grizzled Skipper
This insect is given its name because of the pattern of black and white on its wings, whose span ranges from 1/4 of an inch to 1 inch. This coloration makes it look somewhat like a moth. The butterfly found in Europe, with its population concentrated in central and south England. It lives in woods, grasslands, and even around abandoned railroad tracks or factories. The males and females are similar except that the wings of the females are a bit rounder.
The host plants of the caterpillars are largely members of the rose family and include wild strawberries and agrimony. Adults tend to prefer flowers that are blue or violet. The caterpillars spend much of their time in tents they construct out of a leaf of their host plant, but as they grow they wander away from the tent to find more food.
#2. Smallest Butterflies: White-spotted Tadpole
This little swallowtail butterfly has a wingspan that ranges from between 5/8 to 1\4 of an inch. It’s found in Central and South America including the Brazilian and Venezuelan rainforests. The white-spotted tadpole butterfly has dark brown or black wings with a notable eyespot in the center of each forewing. The eyespot is white in the males, while in the females it’s orange. The antennae are clubbed. The females also have broader wings. There are five known species of this butterfly.
The white-spotted tadpole butterfly is known for its slow flight even though it beats its wings rapidly in ways that resemble the wingbeats of wasps. This is probably to deter predators.
#1. Smallest Butterflies: Western Pygmy Blue
Scientists believe this tiny butterfly, with a wingspan of only a little under half an inch to a little over .78 of an inch, is at least the smallest butterfly in North America if not the world. The top of the wings is more copper-colored, though the bases are powder blue. The wing’s underside is also coppery with white around the edges and at the base. There are also black dots at the base and at the edges. Females are bigger than males.
The butterfly is partial to areas with alkaline soils such as deserts and waste areas. It’s native to the American southwest and can be found as far south as Venezuela and as far north as Oregon. It has been introduced into the Persian Gulf. Host plants include salvia, lamb’s tongue, goosefoot, and pigweed, and the caterpillar eats both leaves and flowers of the plants.
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