Skip to main content - The Animal Encyclopedia for Kids


The Largest, Smallest, Fastest ... Butterflies

Check out these 20 incredible and amusing butterfly records!

Which butterfly is the largest? Or the smallest? Which is the fastest? Which one lives the longest? What is the maximum distance that they can fly? The answers are here! Butterflies set truly remarkable records. To make it easier for you, we organized the top 20 into categories.

Below the tables you will find further information, pictures, exciting background information about the records and a list of butterfly zoos in Germany.

Top 20 Butterfly Records

Swallowtail Butterfly Swallowtail Butterfly - Photo: David/Shutterstock


Largest Wingspan

White witch 11.8 inches (30 cm)
Queen Alexandra’s birdwing 11 inches (28 cm)
Goliath birdwing 11 inches (28 cm)
Hercules moth *** 10.6 inches (27 cm)
Atlas moth 9.8-10.2 inches (25-26 cm)
African giant swallow tail 9 inches (23 cm)

The Guinness Book of Records lists Queen Alexandra’s birdwing as the world’s biggest butterfly. It has a wingspan of 11 inches (28 cm) and a weight of 0.98 ounces (28 grams). However, this record has been surpassed by the white witch. It has a wingspan of 11.8 inches (30 cm).

White witch White witch - Photo: guentermanaus (white witch)/Shutterstock, ffolas (spoon)/

Largest Wing Surface

Atlas moth 62 square inches (400 cm2)
Hercules moth 46.5 square inches (300 cm2)

The Atlas moth doesn't have the largest wingspan, but the largest wings. Their surface area is almost as large as a sheet of paper in US letter format.

Atlas moth Atlas moth - Photo: nednapa (atlas moth)/Shutterstock, Лена Полякевич (paper)/

Smallest Wingspan

Western Pygmy Blue 0.47 inches (12 mm)
Pygmy moth 0.11 inches (3 mm)

Longest Migration

Monarch butterfly 2,880 miles (4,365 km)

In September 1988, a male monarch butterfly was tagged in Ontario (Canada) and re-discovered in April 1989 in Texas (USA). It would hardly have survived the winter in Texas due to the cold temperatures. Therefore, scientists assume that it spent the winter in Mexico. It must have traveled at least 2,880 miles (4,635 km). It's even in the Guinness Book of Records. The calculation was based on a direct flight route from Ontario via Mexico to Texas. In fact, the monarch butterfly may have traveled twice as long.


Monarch butterfly Monarch butterfly - Photo: CHAINFOTO24 (monarch butterfly)/Shutterstock, ABDUL (map)/

Highest Flight Altitude

Small tortoiseshell 19,000 feet (5,791 km)

There are butterflies that fly particularly high. In 1958, a small tortoiseshell was spotted by the English entomologist at an altitude of 19,000 feet (5,791 meters). Typically, the animals do not fly higher than 8,860 feet (2,700 meters).

Fastest Butterfly

Convolvulus hawk-moth 62.1 mph (100 km/h) (short distances)
Skipper 37.2 mph (60 km/h)
Hawk moth (general) 31 mph (50 km/h) (long distances)

Most butterflies travel at a speed of 5-12 mph (8-20 km/h). That's faster than a person walking or a cyclist. But they can go even faster. Skippers and hawk moths reach speeds of 30-37 mph (50-60 km/h). They could keep up with a car in city traffic. They can even cover longer distances at this speed. The convolvulus hawk moth's speed is limited to short distances. It reaches speeds of up to 100 km/h, making it the cheetah of butterflies.

Slowest Wing Beat

Swallowtail 5 beats per second

Longest Lifespan

Brimstone 12 months
Mourning cloak 11-12 months

Brimstone butterfly Brimstone butterfly - Photo: Szymon Bartosz/

Longest Proboscis

Xanthopan praedicta 11.8 inches (30 cm)
Xanthopan morganii 9.8 inches (25 cm)

Most Unusual Proboscis

Calyptra 0.2 inches stinging proboscis

The Calyptra is a vampire moth species. In fact, it doesn't use its proboscis to suck nectar from flowers, but to sting animals and humans. It can go as deep as 0.2 inches (7 mm) into the skin. Like a mosquito, it sucks blood and thus can also transmit diseases. Fortunately, for those living elsewhere, the animal only exists in Southeast Asia.

Loudest Butterfly

Hamadryas 80-100 dB

The red cracker is one of the loudest butterflies. Its name says it all. By clapping its wings together, it produces a loud, cracking sound. The purpose of doing so is to attract females or intimidate competitors. The noise is 80-100 decibels at a distance of 4 inches (10 cm). It should be heard from 100 feet (30 meters) away.

Red cracker Red cracker - Photo: Alex Popovkin, Bahia, Brazil [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Longest Metamorphosis

Gynaephora groenlandica 7 years

Gynaephora groenlandica lives in Canada and Greenland. Actually, it's far too cold there for butterflies. For only a short period of 3-4 weeks a year, it finds plants with sufficient nutrients. That's why they need seven years to pupate. The caterpillars can survive -94 degrees Fahrenheit (-70 degrees Celsius).

The Darkest Butterfly

Catonephele numilia, Catonephele antinoe, Eunica chlorochroa 0,06 % light reflection

According to a study by the University of Durham (USA), the Catonephele numilia, Catonephele antinoe and Eunica chlorochroa sport the darkest black on their wings. It reflects 0.06% light. This is like the darkest black ever made by humans. For example the “Vantablack”, which only reflects 0.04% of light and “Dark Chamaleon Dimer”, which only reflects 0.005%.

Catonephele numilia Catonephele numilia - Photo: Pavel Kirillov from St.Petersburg, Russia [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Most Aggressive Butterfly

Charaxes candiope Dive-bombing humans

The African butterfly Charaxes candiope is considered the most aggressive butterfly. It dive-bombs people entering their territory.

Butterfly Zoos

• The Largest Butterfly Zoo

Since 1986, there is a butterfly zoo on the Malaysian island Penang. Currently, about 4,000 animals are living there in an area covering 86,111 ft² (8,000 m²), which is larger than an official World Championship soccer field.

• Butterfly Zoos in Germany

There are butterfly zoos in Germany, too:

Federal stateCity, Location
Baden-Wuerttemberg Mainau, Mannheim
Bavaria Pfronten
Bremen Bremen
Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania Klütz, Sassnitz, Trassenheide
Lower Saxony Buchholz, Uslar, Emsbüren
North-Rhine Westfalia Hamm, Ahrhütte
Rhineland-Palatinate Koblenz
Saxony Zittau
Saxony-Anhalt Magdeburg, Wittenberg
Schleswig-Holstein Friedrichsruh
Thuringia Erfurt

About Butterflies

Number of Species

There are about 160,000 species of butterflies, and about 700 new species are being discovered every year. The insects live everywhere – with the exception of the Antarctic region as this habitat is too cold and doesn't provide enough food for them.

Where Most Butterflies Live

Most butterflies can be found in warm and tropical regions. In Germany there are “only” 3,700 species.


Before these pretty, colorful insects glide through the air, they first spend their lives as caterpillars and pupae. It can take up to seven years until a butterfly finally hatches. After this, its lifespan is rather short and lasts from a few days to a year at most.

Related Articles:


See all topics on