European Peacock Butterfly: Identification, Life Cycle, and Behavior

Discover the intriguing world of the European Peacock Butterfly. Uncover its unique identification traits, lifecycle, and behavior.

Dive deep into understanding its distribution, diet, main threats, and the plants it chooses as hosts.

Peacock Butterfly (Aglais io)

What is the Classification of the European Peacock Butterfly?

The European Peacock Butterfly is a remarkably unique piece of the butterfly world. Scientifically labelled as Inachis io, it is part of the family called Nymphalidae, also referred to as the brush-footed butterflies.

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Lepidoptera
  • Family: Nymphalidae
  • Genus: Inachis
  • Species: I. io

The classification is a testament to the butterfly’s standing in the insect realm, alluding to its unique traits and behaviors. Its name ‘Peacock’ comes from the stunning eye pattern on its wings, similar to the eye spots on a peacock’s tail.

This flamboyant design is not just for show, but serves a crucial role in the butterfly’s survival strategies.

This classification provides a scientific roadmap to better understand this fascinating creature’s place within the larger ecosystem.

The European Peacock Butterfly’s taxonomy is significant, offering insights into its evolution and adaptation.

Key characteristics link it to the Nymphalidae family, one of the largest butterfly families globally, enfolding over 6,000 species.

Given the family’s vast size, the European Peacock Butterfly shares its brush-footed trait with several other butterfly species.

Understanding this classification enables more precise identifications and initiates deeper inquiries into the life cycle, behaviors, and mating rituals distinctive to this species.

Its scientific profile strengthens our grasp on the complexity and delight of the common, yet remarkable European Peacock Butterfly.

What is the Distribution of European Peacock Butterfly?

The European Peacock Butterfly is primarily found throughout Europe and Asia. It thrives in a wide array of habitats, including woodland edges, clearings, pastures, and even urban gardens.

The butterfly’s wide distribution is due to the adaptability it exhibits in different climatic and habitat conditions.

This colorful creature prefers temperate zones and is widespread in the UK, Ireland, and across mainland Europe.

The distribution extends east to Japan, and in the south, it reaches the Mediterranean and North Africa. Despite their extensive geographic spread, these butterflies prefer altitudes up to 2,500 m above sea level, generally avoiding higher elevations.

Their strong, rapid flight makes them capable of long-distance travel, assisting their broad distribution. The geographical range of the European Peacock Butterfly is expanding, most notably northwards in Europe.

Among the factors contributing to this are climate change and alterations in land management, both fostering enhanced survivability and adaptation.

They retreat into seclusion during winter, favoring holes in trees, crevices, or man-made structures to hibernate. This ability to hibernate also contributes to their extensive distribution, enabling them to survive harsh winter freezes.

So, whether you’re in a bustling city or a quiet rural haven, there’s a good chance you could spot this striking butterfly. Its adaptability and hardy nature make it a familiar sight across many parts of the world.

What are the Main Characteristics of the European Peacock Butterfly?

Distinguished by its vibrant colors and markings, the European Peacock Butterfly flaunts one of the most enchanting appearances among butterflies.

A primary characteristic you’ll notice is that it possesses four large eye spots on its wings. These are strikingly colorful, predominantly blue, but speckled with yellow, white, and black accents.

The butterfly stretches between 2.3-2.7 inches (5.8-6.9 cm), giving an expansive view of its intricate wing patterns. Its deep red-brown wings exhibit black markings and white borders which enhance their visual appeal.

Additionally, the underside of its wings depict a somewhat mottled appearance for camouflage.

Its body is relatively small in contrast to the grandeur of its wings. Behold, the butterfly has a short, stout body that’s covered in fuzzy hair, rarely exceeding 1.2 inches (3 cm) in length.

  • Wingspan : 2.3-2.7 inches (5.8-6.9 cm)
  • Body Length : Up to 1.2 inches (3 cm)
  • Color : Red-brown wings with black, blue, white, and yellow markings
  • Distinctive Feature : Four large eye spots on the wings

Considering its aesthetics, there’s no surprise that this butterfly is a sight for sore eyes on any given day.

Every characteristic, color, and marking adorns not just to attract mates, but also as a survival strategy against predators. Indubitably, the European Peacock Butterfly’s design is an ideal blend of allure and functionality!

How to Identify Male and Female European Peacock Butterfly?

When learning about the European Peacock Butterfly, understanding the differences between males and females can be quite intriguing.

Firstly, upon inspecting their size, females tend to be slightly larger. The average wingspan of the male falls in the range of 2.2-2.6 inches (55-65 mm), whereas the female’s wingspan often stretches out between 2.4-2.8 inches (60-70 mm).

Contrasting the color of their wings also helps in distinguishing the sexes. For both male and female, the base color is a rich reddish-brown. However, the hue intensity varies a bit.

Females usually have a darker tone, slightly verging towards a deeper brown as opposed to the males’ vibrant shade. Although, it must be noted that this color can change depending on sunlight exposure and temperature.

Examining the distinct, circular eye patterns on the wings is equally helpful. The ‘eyes’ are essentially rings with a black, blue, and yellow design.

This blue coloration is said to be more evident in males.

Remember, these distinguishing features might not always be obvious. External conditions like weather impacts the color and size of butterflies, so treat these as general guidelines, not hard rules.

Nonetheless, armed with this knowledge, you should be able to differentiate between male and female European Peacock Butterflies more confidently.

What is the Mating Ritual of European Peacock Butterfly?

The mating process of European Peacock Butterflies is fascinating. Males typically seek out females using their keen sense of smell, detecting specific pheromones the females produce.

Once a male finds a potential mate, he performs a courtship display that includes fluttering around her and flashing his distinctly colorful wings to capture her attention.

When he’s done an effective job, the female remains stationary, allowing the male to mount and mate. This mating can last from a few minutes up to an hour, showcasing the vitality and persistence of these tiny, vibrant creatures.

This copulation also ensures the next generation of European Peacock Butterflies spread their wings and take flight.

Post mating, female butterflies safeguard the fertilized eggs. They lay them on host plants like nettles for safekeeping and nourishment of the future larvae.

This element is crucial in the life cycle of these butterflies, setting the stage for the caterpillar phase and ultimately, metamorphosis.

Thus, the mating ritual of a European Peacock Butterfly, while brief, is an indispensable, delightful view of nature’s art.

What Does the Caterpillar of European Peacock Butterfly Look Like?

The caterpillar of the European Peacock Butterfly is truly a sight to behold. It’s one unusual creature with distinguishing features, which unfailingly catch your attention.

The body of this caterpillar measures around 42mm (1.7 inches) in length.

Color and Texture

Right off the bat, the predominant color is a shiny black — as rich as the midnight sky. On the back of each segment, you’ll notice tiny white dots breaking up the expanse of blackness. Apart from this, it has a spiky appearance, as there are short bristles scattered across its body.

Shape and Size

The caterpillar body is cylindrical, resembling the shape of a cigar. As for the size, the caterpillar grows up to 42mm (1.7 inches), which is considerably large for butterfly larvae.

Moving Behavior

Another distinguishing trait is its distinctive ‘S’ motion when it moves, spiraling along branches and stems as it progresses. While the caterpillar’s behavior and appearance may seem formidable, rest assured that it’s harmless.

Mouth parts

The caterpillar’s face is also black, and it has a robust set of mouth parts that it uses for feeding. These mouth parts are strengthened and adapted for munching on leaves.

In the outdoors, if you come across a caterpillar that’s shiny black, with white dots, an extensive size, and unique, spiraling moving behavior, you’ve likely spotted a European Peacock Butterfly caterpillar.

What is the Life Cycle of European Peacock Butterfly?

Stage one: Eggs. The life cycle begins when the female lays her eggs. These eggs are small, about 0.04 inches (1 millimeter) in size. They’re typically laid in clusters on the underside of stinging nettle leaves, a favorite food of the caterpillars. These eggs will incubate for one to two weeks before the larvae emerge.

Stage two: Caterpillars. The next stage are the caterpillars, also known as larvae. They spend most of their time eating, growing from a tiny 0.08 inches (2 millimeters) to an impressive 1.6 inches (40 millimeters). This stage lasts for about one month.

Stage three: Pupation. Post feeding, the caterpillars find a safe spot to pupate. During pupation, they’ll transform into a chrysalis, and after two weeks, they emerge as fully formed butterflies.

Stage four: Adults. Now, as butterflies, they feed on nectar and prepare for the process of reproduction, beginning the cycle anew. Adult European Peacock butterflies can live up to 11 months, ensuring there’s plenty of time to lay the next generation of eggs.

This cycle is a fascinating display of metamorphosis, showcasing the incredible journey from egg to butterfly.

What Is the Average Life Expectancy of a European Peacock Butterfly?

A European Peacock butterfly has an interesting lifespan. Adult butterflies live for around 11 to 12 months, one of the longest lifespans for any butterfly species. In the world of insects, this is quite notable.

In the initial stages, the life cycle is short. The eggs hatch within a couple of weeks, turning into caterpillars. When they reach their full growth, caterpillars then change into pupae in a process called ‘pupation’. This takes another two weeks.

The real longevity lies in the adult butterfly stage. After emerging from the pupa, it enters a stage of inactivity during winter, known as overwintering. This phase significantly contributes to their long lifespan.

Remember, this lifespan is an average. External factors such as availability of food, mating opportunities, and threats can affect survival.

By understanding the lifespan, you’re gaining insight into the fascinating lifecycle of this beautiful insect.

What Does the Diet of a European Peacock Butterfly Consist Of?

European Peacock Butterflies, like many other butterfly species, primarily feed on nectar from a variety of wildflowers. However, one key difference is their preference for plant species within the Asteraceae (or daisy) family.

One of the mainstay sources of nutrition in the Peacock Butterfly’s diet is nectar from plants like buddleia, thistles, and Michaelmas daisies — each presenting a rich offering of their needed nutrients.

These butterflies also present a striking example of adaptability, occasionally feeding on tree sap and fallen fruits in the absence of nectar-rich flowers.

Interestingly, the diet of the Peacock butterfly changes as they go through their life cycle. As caterpillars, their diet is considerably different.

The larvae of the Peacock Butterfly have a predilection for nettle leaves, principally from the Urtica dioica or common stinging nettle.

The dietary trends of the European Peacock Butterfly, hence, show a definite favor for certain plant species while also demonstrating flexibility in its choice of food sources.

Whether it’s nectar from flowers, tree sap, or the leaves of nettles, these butterflies display an impressive range of dietary habits that facilitate their survival in varied habitats across Europe.

Which Plants Serve as the Primary Hosts for European Peacock Butterfly?

The European Peacock butterfly, also known as Aglais io, boasts a rich spectrum of plant hosts, notably among the nettles family, Urticaceae.

The common nettle, Urtica dioica, acts as the chief food source for both caterpillars and adults. Additionally, the butterfly larvae have a penchant for the small nettle, Urtica urens.

Equally, hop, an essential ingredient in beer production, serves as a viable alternative. This rambling plant, known scientifically as Humulus lupulus, offers a veritable feast for voracious caterpillar appetites.

However, remember, European Peacock Butterfly’s diet isn’t limited to nettles and hops only. Some garden cultivars also prove favorable hosts.

Varieties of Buddleja, commonly known as the butterfly bush, attract adults with their nectar-rich flowers. The Red Valerian, Centranthus ruber, is another favored plant in the European Peacock Butterfly’s menu.

Various fruit trees also serve as nectar sources for the butterflies. They usually feed on fermenting fruits and even on sap seepages on trees.

This wide range of plant hosts contributes to the success of the European Peacock Butterfly, ensuring it has an abundant supply of food resources at different life stages and across diverse habitats.

If you’re keen on creating a butterfly-friendly garden, incorporating these plants can turn it into a haven for these majestic creatures.

What are the Unique Mimicry Behaviors in European Peacock Butterfly?

The European Peacock butterfly offers a stunning spectacle of mimicry behaviors. Their ability to ward off potential threats sits at the heart of these fascinating behaviors.

Let’s delve into some specifics about these behaviors.

The European Peacock butterfly boasts large, colorful eye-spots on their wings. These ‘eyes’ serve as a startling defense mechanism against predators.

When perched with wings spread, they offer a menacing display to would-be attackers.

You’ll notice these butterflies also use ‘leaf mimicry’ during rest periods. This capability to blend with the leafy backdrop is an effective tactic to avoid detection. So don’t be surprised if you overlook this butterfly sitting in plain sight!

Another peculiar behavior is their ability to make hissing sounds. This unique phenomenon happens when the butterflies are agitated.

Releasing air from their abdomen, they make an audibly discernible hiss, acting as an ultimatum to the approaching threat.

Interestingly, caterpillars of the Peacock butterfly, too, exhibit mimicry. They possess dissuasive markings on their body that greatly resemble the face of a small snake, fooling predators into retreating.

Therefore, Peacock butterflies are truly nature’s brilliant artists, opting not just for camouflage but also for breathtaking mimicry performances.

Not only do they deceive their predators, but they also offer a unique spectacle for us to appreciate in our butterfly encounters.

What Are the Main Threats to European Peacock Butterfly Populations?

Just like most species, the European Peacock Butterfly faces several serious threats as well. Despite its wide distribution throughout Europe, the numbers are dwindling.

Let’s understand the reasons behind this.

  • Habitat destruction is one of the most critical threats. Urbanization, agriculture, and deforestation lead to loss of natural habitats. This loss vastly reduces the butterflies’ potential breeding and feeding grounds.
  • The next problem is the overuse of pesticides. Peacock butterflies, like others, rely on certain plants for survival. Excessive pesticide use can kill these key plants, leading to devastating effects on butterfly populations.
  • Climate change also poses a great risk. Changes in weather patterns and temperature can disrupt their life cycle. Particularly, warmer winters may lead to premature emergence of butterflies, who then struggle to find food and mates.
  • Illicit trade and collection although less prevalent, still remains an issue. Irresponsible collecting and trade of butterflies can have detrimental effects on local populations.

Needless to say, it’s crucial for us to understand and mitigate these threats in order to safeguard these stunning creatures.

Environmental consciousness and sustainable practices can go a long way in preserving their population. The future of the European Peacock Butterfly is in our hands.


The European Peacock Butterfly, with its unique features and beautiful lifecycle, is a fascinating specimen of Mother Nature’s artistry.

Understanding its habitat, diet, and threats builds our respect and appreciation for this mesmerizing creature.

We’d love to hear your thoughts or experiences relating to this magnificent butterfly, so feel free to leave a comment below.

Butterflies   Updated: July 11, 2023
avatar Welcome to Insectic, a blog to learn about insects and bugs. I'm Richard, and I've created this website to share my experience, knowledge, and passion with others.

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