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Learn About Butterflies

Learn more about Hawaii's butterflies, the butterfly life cycle, how to start your own butterfly garden, and other Internet resources about butterflies for both adults and children.

Hawaii's Butterflies

Hawaii is home to 17 species of butterfly, including the Lesser Grass-Blue discovered by BSOH board member Jim Snyder in March 2008. You can see photos of Hawaii's butterflies on Jim's Web site. Look for butterfly eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalises (pupas) on the host plants listed in the table below.


Butterfly Host Plant
American Lady Cudweed
Banana Skipper Banana
Cabbage White Cabbage, Nasturium
Chinese Swallowtail Citrus
Fiery Skipper Bermuda, St. Augustine grass
Gulf Fritillary Passion Vine (Lilikoi)
Hawaiian Blue
(Blackburn’s Blue)
Kamehameha Lady Mamaki
Lantana Scrub-Hairstreak Lantana
Large Orange Sulphur Opiuma
Lesser Grass-Blue Sensitive Plant
Long-Tailed Blue Rattlepod
Monarch Crownflower
Painted Lady Cocklebur
Red Admiral Mamaki
Red-Spotted Hairstreak Lantana
Western Pygmy-Blue Pickleweed


Butterfly Life Cycle

Butterflies have four stages of life: the egg, the caterpillar, the pupa, and the adult.

Butterfly Egg

The Egg

After mating, the adult female lays eggs. The eggs are tiny, and are round, oval, or cylindrical in shape. The female attaches the egg to leaves and stems, on a plant the caterpillars will eat, called a host plant. A few butterflies prefer to attach eggs to host plant flowers. Different butterfly species use different host plants.

The eggs may hatch within a few days, but the eggs of some species can survive for months until conditions are right for the larvae to hatch and survive.



The Caterpillar

After the eggs hatch, the tiny caterpillars emerge and begin to eat. They often have an interesting pattern of stripes or patches, and may have spine-like hairs. This is the feeding and growth stage. As the caterpillar grows, it sheds its skin four or more times so as to enclose its rapidly growing body.



The Pupa

When the caterpillar is ready to pupate, it looks for a sheltered spot and then sheds its skin one last time to reveal the pupa, or chrysalis. Inside the chrysalis, the structures of the caterpillar are broken down and dissolved, and the adult insect’s structures are formed. The chrysalis of most species is brown or green and blends well with its environment.

Monarch Feeding


The Adult Butterfly (Imago)

After the transformation is complete, the adult butterfly emerges and pumps fluid to expand its wings. The adults undergo courtship, feeding, mating, and egg-laying. Adult butterflies are attracted to certain nectar plants for their food.

The following nectar plants attract adult butterflies: alyssum, coneflower, day lilies, eldorado, false heather, galphimia, ilima, ixora (Nora Grant), Japanese privet, kookoolau, lantana (yellow, red/yellow, lavender), lavender, mock orange, ohai alii, pentas, tithonia, zinnia.

Where Have All the Butterflies Gone?

“When the last individual of a race of living things breathes no more, another Heaven and another Earth must pass before such a one can be again.” William Beebe (1877-1962)

This is a question many of us have asked over the years. The truth is, with seventeen species of butterflies in Hawaii, we have more variety now than at any time in the past. The most recent arrival is the Lesser Grass Blue discovered by BSOH board member Jim Snyder in March 2008.

Nevertheless, the overall population of butterflies is, indeed, drastically smaller than it was fifty years ago. Those of us who remember the “old days” have visions of swarms of Monarch butterflies around crownflower plants, as well as other species not commonly recognized at that time.

But man’s encroachment on butterfly habitats and the degradation of the overall environment have resulted in diminished butterfly populations. Although hard and fast statistics for Hawaii are lacking, the same trends have been noted in California, where the butterfly population has declined by 40% since 1980. Concrete, blacktop, and shopping centers are not conducive to maintaining a healthy butterfly population.

The mission of the Butterfly Society of Hawaii is to educate the population on the importance of butterflies. Not only are they beautiful creatures, but they serve as the “mine canaries” of ecological balance. The fewer the butterflies, the worse off the overall environment.

We are encouraging the creation of butterfly gardens within the urban corridor, whether at an institution, a house, or an apartment. Creating oases in our crowded and over-populated areas will help preserve those butterflies we have left, and may even increase their numbers.

Our focus is on the children, and to this end we have encouraged tours of our garden at Foster Garden to peak their interest in these creatures. Our success so far has been gratifying. Join us in this endeavor by joining BSOH, and planting a butterfly garden in your yard or on your lanai. If you plant it, they will come!

Jerrold and Niki Fuller, Founders, Butterfly Society of Hawaii

Starting Your Own Butterfly Garden

There are four basic requirements for establishing a butterfly garden:

  1. Sun
  2. Protection from the wind
  3. Nectar plants on which butterflies feed
  4. Host plants on which butterflies lay eggs

Contact the Butterfly Society at info@butterflysocietyofhawaii.org for more details on plant material and answers to other questions.

More Information

For more information about butterflies and butterfly gardens, visit the following Web sites:




About Us

About Butterflies

Hawaiian Host Plants

Hawaiian Nectar Plants

Internet Resources

Life Cycle

Where Are They?

Become a Member

Contact Us

Guided Tours

Starting Your Own Garden

Visit the Butterfly Garden


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