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The Largest, Smallest, Fastest ... Butterflies

Which butterfly has a wingspan of 12 inch (30 cm)? Are there butterflies that can fly distances of up to 2,880 miles (4,635 km)? Which butterfly is the fastest flyer? You will find answers to all these questions right here! Below the chart there are more information on butterflies, photos, exciting background infos on the records and a list of butterfly zoos in Germany.

Widest wingspan  
Brazilian giant owl * 11.8 inch (30 cm)
Queen Alexandra’s birdwing 11 inch (28 cm)
Goliath Birdwing ** 11 inch (28 cm)
Hercules Moth *** 10.6 inch (27 cm)
Atlas moth 9.8 - 10.2 inch (25 - 26 cm)
Afr. giant swallow tail 9 inch (23 cm)
Largest wing surface  
Atlas moth 62 inch2 (400 cm2)
Hercules moth 46.5 inch2300 cm2
Smallest wingspan  
Western Pygmy Blue 0.47 inch (12 mm)
Pygmy moth 0.11 inch (3 mm)
Longest migration  
Monarch butterfly 1,999 miles (3,218 km)
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)
Slowest wing beat  
Swallowtail 5 beats/minute
Longest lifespan  
Mourning cloak 11 - 12 month
Common brimstone 12 month
Longest proboscis  
Xanthopan morganii 25 cm ****

* Thysania agrippina
** Ornithoptera goliath
*** Coscinocera hercules
**** longer than the body

Atlas Moth Atlas Moth - Photo: fotoedu/Shutterstock


There are about 150,000 species of butterflies, and about 700 new species are being newly discovered every year. The flying insects live everywhere – with the exception of the Antarctic region as this habitat is too cold and does not yield enough food for them – there is only ice anyway. Most butterflies can be found in warm and tropical regions; In Germany there are “only” 3,700 species. Before the beautiful and colorful insects are able to glide through the air, they spend their lives as caterpillars or chrysalis. 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.

Mourning Cloak Mourning Cloak - Photo: Marek R. Swadzba/Shutterstock

The Fastest Butterfly

Most butterflies fly through the air at speeds of about 4.9 - 12.4 mph (8 - 20 km/h). This is faster than a walking person or someone driving a bicycle. But they can be even faster than this. Some butterflies can even keep up with a car in town traffic: The skipper and the hawk moth reach speeds between 31 and 37.2 mph (50 and 60 km/h) – not only for a short while, but also when traveling longer distances.

The Biggest Butterfly

The Guinness Book of Records lists Queen Alexandra’s birdwing as the world’s biggest butterfly, with a wingspan of 11 inch (28 cm) and a weight of 0.98 oz (28 g). Meanwhile this record has been surpassed by the Brazilian giant owl with a wingspan of 11.8 inch (30 cm).

ueen Alexandra’s birdwing ueen Alexandra’s birdwing - Photo: GR Photo/Shutterstock

The Largest Wing Surface

The Atlas moth does not have the largest wingspan, but the largest wings. It has been named after Atlas, a hero from Greek mythology, who had to carry the entire world on his shoulders.

The Longest Migration

In September 1988, a male monarch butterfly was armed in Ontario, Canada, and re-discovered in Texas, USA, in 1989. Due to the icy temperatures, it would not have survived the winter in Texas. Therefore, scientists reckon, that the butterfly flew 2,880 miles (4,635 km) to Mexico at the minimum to spend the winter there. Yet, it might even be possible that the monarch butterfly covered twice this distance.

Monarch Butterfly Monarch Butterfly - Photo: Jearu/Shutterstock

The Highest-Flying Butterfly

There are also butterflies that are able to fly particularly high. The painted lady butterfly has already been sighted at a height of 1,895 miles (3,050 m).

Greetings from Dracula: The most unusual Proboscis

The owlet moth Calyptra does not have its proboscis to suck nectar from plants but to sting animals and humans. It sucks their blood just like a mosquito and thus can also transmit diseases. Yet, the butterfly does not live in Europe and can only be found in Southeast Asia. Don't panic!

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 football pitch. There are several butterfly zoos in Germany as well, for instance in:

Federal stateCity/Location
Baden-Wuerttemberg Mainau, Mannheim
Bavaria Pfronten
Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania Klütz, Sassnitz, Trassenheide
Lower Saxony Bad Rothenfelde, Buchholz, Steinhude, Uslar
North-Rhine Westfalia Hamm
Saxony Johnsdorf, Zittau
Saxony-Anhalt Magdeburg, Wittenberg
Schleswig-Holstein Friedrichsruh

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