Peacock Butterfly: Identification, Life Cycle, and Behavior

Welcome, fellow nature enthusiast! You’re about to embark on an exciting journey to get acquainted with one of the most stunning creatures, the Peacock Butterfly.

We’ll cover everything from its identification, life cycle to its unique behavior.

Peacock Butterfly (Aglais io)

What is the Classification of Peacock Butterfly?

The Peacock Butterfly, scientifically termed as Aglais io, belongs to the large family known as the Nymphalidae.

This family encompasses approximately 6,000 species and is one of the largest families in the butterfly kingdom.

Within this broad category, the Peacock Butterfly forms a part of the tribe Nymphalini.

Along with its close cousins such as the Small Tortoiseshell and the Red Admiral, the Peacock Butterfly is hugely popular among butterfly enthusiasts.

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

Named for the peacock-like eyespots on its wings, this butterfly is a beauty to behold. Despite being vividly colorful, these butterflies are not just for show.

Their vibrant patterns play a critical role in their survival by serving as a form of camouflage against predators.

Throughout their lives, Peacock butterflies undergo a remarkable transformation from caterpillar to chrysalis, and finally to a fully-grown butterfly.

This transformation, coupled with their striking appearance and intriguing behaviors, makes them a species of great interest in the study of entomology.

What is the Distribution of Peacock Butterfly?

The Peacock Butterfly is a member of the Nymphalidae family and is widely distributed across Europe and Asia.

You may find it in the UK, across Western Europe, and as far eastwards as Japan. In fact, it’s one of the most common butterflies in the UK and is a joy to spot.

In the United Kingdom, they are typically found throughout England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.

The same goes for their presence in Western Europe; they are widely spread across nations.

If you are an Asian dweller, you’ll catch sight of them too, particularly in Japan.

These butterflies are in abundance in woodland areas and gardens, they love to bask in the sun. These beauties are known for their migration within their range.

Generally, they migrate to higher altitudes in summer.

While they might wander a bit, the fact is that Peacock butterflies display strong homing behavior. This means they tend to return to the same breeding ground each year.

The next time you’re sipping tea in your garden or taking a woodland stroll, keep your eyes open, you might just spot a Peacock butterfly showing off its stunning ‘peacock eyes’.

What are the Main Characteristics of the Peacock Butterfly?

The Peacock Butterfly, recognizable for its striking, iridescent colors, truly is an avian impersonator par excellence. Shaped like a pair of bird wings, its wingspan can reach up to 2.2 to 2.7 inches (5.5 to 6.9 cm).

  • Color and Markings: Most notable are the four large, bright circular ‘eye’ markings on its wings, two on each one, which mimic the predatory eyes of owls, discouraging would-be attackers. The top side of its wings is covered with a dazzling array of shades ranging from red, orange, pink and even purple, all in a gradient pattern complemented with a dark outer margin.
  • Body: The butterfly’s body is short and fuzzy, reminiscent of bumblebees. With its dark-colored body, the peacock butterfly largely remains camouflaged when its wings are closed, showing only its dull undersides to keep off predators.
  • Size: As for size, both male and female peacock butterflies typically range from 2.2 to 2.7 inches (5.5 to 6.9 cm) in terms of wingspan.
  • Antennae: They possess clubbed antennae which assist in navigation and detecting the presence of nectar.
  • Sexual Dimorphism: There’s no significant sexual dimorphism apart from the slightly larger size of the females, making the sexes look quite similar.

These attributes combined make the Peacock Butterfly a remarkable member of the butterfly world. Its unique combination of mimicry, camouflage, and dazzling colors makes it a true spectacle of evolution.

How to Identify Male and Female Peacock Butterfly?

Identifying the male and female butterflies of the Peacock species may seem like an uphill task. However, once you get the hang of the subtle differences, it becomes simpler.

For untrained eyes, Peacock butterflies may appear just alike. But keen entomologists would tell you that there are physical differences between the male and female in this species.

  • Male Peacock Butterfly: Look at the abdomen, it is narrower and pointed in the males. Males also have a darker body shade. Note, the size of the antenna, in males it is slightly larger compared to their female counterparts.
  • Female Peacock Butterfly: On the other hand, females have a rounder and fuller abdomen. Females exhibit a slightly paler body color. Another useful tip; females have shorter antennae in contrast to the males.

A keen observation of the body shape, color, and size of antennae should provide you useful hints to differentiate between male and female Peacock butterflies.

What is the Mating Ritual of Peacock Butterfly?

In the world of butterflies, mating rituals can be quite complex and interesting, and the Peacock butterfly is no different.

Males of the species engage in a unique process to court females that involves assessing their readiness to mate, demonstrating their strength and eventually persuading the female to mate.

  1. Courtship: The mating ritual begins with what is known as courtship. The male peacock butterfly, showcasing his vibrant set of wings, flies around the female to grab her attention. This is followed by what can be described as a dance, where the male butterfly flutters his wings rapidly to attract the female.
  2. Demonstration of strength: After drawing attention, the male has to demonstrate his strength and stamina. He does this by constantly flying and hovering around the female for prolonged periods. This is seen as a sign of a healthy, vigorous suitor, increasing his chances of being chosen by the female.
  3. Chemical persuasion: Lastly, the male peacock butterfly secretes a special chemical known as a pheromone. This chemical acts as a form of persuasion, attracting the female towards the male.

The entire process can sometimes last for hours, depending on the willingness of the female.

If the female is unresponsive or tries to fly away, the male will follow persistently, proving his dedication.

Often, it is seen that the most persistent males are the successful ones. However, the final choice, as always, remains with the female butterfly.

What Does the Caterpillar of Peacock Butterfly Look Like?

The caterpillar of a Peacock butterfly is a sight to behold. It has a dark, almost black body that’s covered in prickly, white spots which provide an impressive camouflage among leaves.

During early larval stages, their bodies exhibit a reddy-brown shade. However, as they grow, their color gradually alters to a distinctive velvety black tone.

These caterpillars are quite the sizable creatures, with their bodies stretching up to 42mm (approximately 1.65 inches) in length.

They have a series of tiny, white dots lined along their bodies, breaking their dark silhouette.

Moreover, they possess six distinct, true legs, and a series of prolegs helping in locomotion. Among their other distinct features are the short, bristle-like hairs giving them quite a prickly appearance.

Their prickly hairs protect them from predators, dissuading them from making a meal out of these larvae.

This, teamed with their dark coloring, provides an excellent defense mechanism.

Peacock butterfly caterpillars have quite a unique appearance, which serves as a perfect adaptive strategy in the wild.

So, comparing their appearance to the graceful beauty of their butterfly state will definitely leave you in awe!

Moreover, you may often find them hunched in a distinctive ‘s’ shape when disturbed, tucking their head into their body.

This peculiarity further adds intrigue to these wonderful creatures. This is truly nature’s masterpiece from each tiny hair to every minute, white spot.

You’ll surely remember it once you’ve seen it!

Identifying Peacock Butterfly caterpillars is pretty straightforward once you know what to look for.

Their length, colors, spots, hairs and classic ‘s’ shape are all great indicators.

What is the Life Cycle of Peacock Butterfly?

Let’s start discussing the life cycle of the Peacock Butterfly – it consists of four unique stages.

Like all butterflies, the process begins with an egg, progressing to a caterpillar, a pupa, and ultimately an adult butterfly.

  • Egg – The female Peacock Butterfly lays her eggs, usually in clusters, on the leaves of a host plant. The eggs are ribbed and generally greenish-blue in color. Typically, they will hatch after around two weeks, marking the start of the caterpillar phase.
  • Caterpillar – Once hatched, the caterpillar’s primary task is to consume and grow. Its preference for foliage, particularly nettle leaves, provides abundant food. After a month or so, when it has reached around 1.8 inches (4.5 cm), it’s time to transition into a pupa.
  • Pupa – After securing itself to a firm surface, the caterpillar enters the pupal, or chrysalis stage. Its outer layer hardens, protecting the transformation occurring within. After two weeks, the adult butterfly is ready to emerge.
  • Adult – The final stage, the adult Peacock Butterfly, is quite a sight to behold, with its vibrant colors of red, blue, black, green, white and yellow.

Remember, this life cycle can vary depending on environmental conditions. Typically, the adult Peacock Butterfly will emerge in July, ready to enjoy the summer months before hibernating through winter.

What Is the Average Life Expectancy of a Peacock Butterfly?

When it comes to the average life expectancy of the Peacock Butterfly, it’s been estimated to be approximately 11 to 12 months.

This time frame may seem short, but it is actually significantly more than other butterfly species which live only a few weeks on average.

The life span of a Peacock Butterfly begins in the spring, hatching in around 5-10 days after the eggs have been laid.

Their caterpillar stage lasts for about 30 days, at which point, they’ll metamorphosize into a chrysalis and prepare for the next stage of life. This chrysalis phase lasts for another 15 days.

Upon emerging as fully-grown butterflies, Peacock Butterflies’ primary objective becomes finding mates and reproducing.

While the summer months are replete with mating and egg-laying, towards the end of summer, Peacock Butterflies begin preparing for hibernation, which can last up to 7 months.

Consider this timeline:

  • Egg hatching period: 5-10 days
  • Caterpillar stage: ~30 days
  • Chrysalis stage: ~15 days
  • Butterfly stage (excluding hibernation): up to 2 months
  • Hibernation: up to 7 months

Therefore, the butterfly’s long hibernation phase significantly contributes to their year-long life expectancy, making the Peacock butterfly one of the butterfly species with the longest lifespan.

What Does the Diet of a Peacock Butterfly Consist Of?

Peacock butterflies are not picky eaters. The primary nourishment they consume in their adults stage is nectar from many different types of flowers.

These colorful fluttering creatures are particularly fond of blossoms from nectar-rich plants. They seek out flowers like the buddleia, commonly known as the “butterfly bush”, dandelion, marigold, and lavender.

They also like the nectar from thistles, daisies, wild roses, and clover.

Nectar is not their only food source.

Peacock butterflies also appreciate overripe fruits. Whenever you see fallen apples, softened pears, or plums on the ground, chances are peacock butterflies are not far away.

They are attracted to these sweet, fermented treats, which give them a dose of much-needed sugars and other nutrients.

They’re also fond of tree sap, especially the sweetest variety which is high in sugars and other nutrients. On more scarce occasions, they have even been seen feeding on animal dung.

In the caterpillar stage, the peacock butterfly’s diet consists primarily of common nettle leaves. In a handy table, it looks like this:

Life Stage Diet
Caterpillar Nettle leaves
Adult Nectar, overripe fruit, tree sap, animal dung

Peacock butterflies enjoy a range of foods throughout their lives, from nutrient-rich nettles as caterpillars, to a sweet and varied diet of nectar, fruit, and tree sap as adults.

Which Plants Serve as the Primary Hosts for Peacock Butterfly?

The Peacock butterfly, known scientifically as Aglais io, relies heavily on specific plant species throughout their lifecycle.

Being predominantly found across Europe and temperate Asia, they require a unique set of plant hosts suitable for feeding and reproduction.

Nettles form the most essential part of their host plant list. The Peacock butterfly lays her eggs primarily on the Common nettle (Urtica dioica).

This plant serves as the initial food source for hatched larvae, providing essential nutrients that facilitate rapid growth and transformation.

Peacock butterflies also exhibit a certain fondness for flowering plants, especially during nectaring or feeding.

Plants like Buddleia, commonly known as the Butterfly Bush, are often frequented by these butterflies. They’ve also been spotted on flowering species such as Dandelions, Marjoram, and Michaelmas daisies.

Here is a small table for an easy overview:

Function Plant
Egg-Laying and Larvae Feeding Common Nettle
Nectaring Butterfly Bush, Dandelions, Marjoram, Michaelmas daisies

Therefore, if you’re looking to attract Peacock butterflies to your garden, make sure you have these plants in your green space.

Furthermore, promoting the growth of these plants in natural habitats can contribute to sustaining and even increasing the population of these visually stunning butterflies.

What are the Unique Mimicry Behaviors in Peacock Butterfly?

Have you ever noticed the peacock butterfly’s striking eyespots? These aren’t for show! They play a critical role in its mimicry behavior, which helps it deceive predators.

  • Threat display: Peacock butterflies employ a unique behavior when threatened. They do this by suddenly exposing the ‘eye spots’ on their wings. This unusual threat display is surprisingly effective. It can startle or confuse predators like birds and mice, giving the butterfly a chance to escape.
  • Camouflage: When their wings are closed, peacock butterflies blend in well with their surroundings. They do this because the underside of their wings is rather dull usually bearing resemblance to leaves. This way, they can hide in plain sight!

In addition, this species also utilizes chemical defense. The adults are pretty distasteful to birds, which, once tasted, learn to avoid these butterflies.

In the wild, it’s all about survival, and for the peacock butterfly, demonstrating the appearance of a larger, more threatening animal, helps them live another day.

In short, mimicry in peacock butterflies takes on both a visual and chemical component. This dual strategy is effective in warding off would-be predators.

Quite remarkable, don’t you think? Being able to change your appearance, or taste, in the blink of an eye. Talk about having a superhero’s arsenal in your back pocket!

Yes! The natural world we live in is truly full of wonder and surprises. But remember, the survival techniques these creatures develop are a result of years of evolution and adaptation.

Understanding them helps us protect and preserve the delicate balance of our ever-changing ecosystem.

What Are the Main Threats to Peacock Butterfly Populations?

Primarily, the peacock butterfly populations face severe threats due to loss of favorable habitat and climate change.

The widespread use of harsh pesticides and herbicides doesn’t help their case either.

Habitat Loss:

  • With urban development, there’s a decline of the butterfly’s preferred nettle plants.
  • Fields with diverse flowering plants have now become increasingly rare.
  • No field means no peacock butterflies, as simple as that.

Climate Change:

  • Changes in climatic conditions can upset the balance of plants and insects.
  • Severe weather events can wipe out butterfly populations, especially caterpillars who are more vulnerable.
  • Climate change is unpredictable, thus, making it more difficult for these species to adapt.

Use of Pesticides and Herbicides:

  • These chemicals can directly kill butterflies or remove their food sources, causing a decline in numbers.
  • The pesticides don’t distinguish between pests and beneficial species, hence the butterflies become collateral victims.

While it’s a shame such harmonious creatures are at risk, it’s not too late to counteract these threats. Their survival is in our hands more than we realize.

Preserving their habitat, reducing the use of chemicals, and mitigating climate change can help ensure these colorful flutters continue to grace our gardens.


Wrapping up our exploration of the Peacock Butterfly, we’ve covered their classification, life cycle, and key behaviors.

This vibrant creature truly makes nature’s diversity evident. What’s your take on the life of Peacock Butterflies?

Do remember to share in the comments.

Butterflies   Updated: July 3, 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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