Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park
Be on the lookout as butterflies from 20,000 species from nearly every continent on the planet come and go throughout the year!
Like all of our Walt Disney World Resort Guests—including butterflies—we love beautiful flowers!
Butterflies at Walt Disney World Resort
On warm, calm, sunny days, Guests can find wild butterflies throughout Walt Disney World Resort. The best way to see butterflies up-close is to spot them while they are drinking nectar from a flower. Many of our parks and Resort hotels have special flower gardens planted specifically to attract local butterfly species—and we are planning to plant many more! Guests can learn more about The Walt Disney Company’s commitment to conservation by experiencing Backstage Tales, a behind-the-scenes tour of the animal facilities offered at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park.
Butterflies in the Wild
Butterflies can be found on every continent of the globe except Antarctica, and in a wide range of habitats, including wetlands, lowlands, temperate and tropical forests, mountains, farmlands—and your own backyard! Each species has its own habitat requirements based on the specific host plant the caterpillar needs to survive and pupate, and on the nectar source for the adult butterfly.
Threats to Butterflies
The greatest threats to butterflies are habitat change and loss due to residential, commercial and agricultural development. Climate change and pesticides are also threatening butterfly species and populations.
Disney Conservation Efforts
The Walt Disney Company is passionately committed to the protection of butterflies. Find out what Disney is doing—and how you can help, too!
“An amazing thing happens when people have the chance to come face-to-face with wildlife. They feel a strong connection, and are motivated to take action to protect wildlife and wild places and the environment.” – Dr. Jackie Ogden, former VP, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks
Where have all the flowers and host plants gone—and the butterflies that depend on them to live?
Habitat loss—through land development, the construction of roads and buildings and expanded farming and forestry—is the main cause of the decline of butterflies. Other negative human impacts are from over-use of pesticides, water diversion, water pollution and climate change. Humans are not only disrupting important butterfly habitats, but butterfly migration routes as well, which has had devastating effects on their populations.
Disney Is Helping Butterflies in the Wild
In many cultures, butterflies are considered beautiful symbolic creatures. They are also important pollinators and indicators of environmental health, as well as model organisms for studying the impact of habitat loss and climate change. Habitat loss, in fact, is among the greatest threats facing butterflies. Disney is helping to reverse the consequences of habitat loss by supporting work that identifies at-risk butterfly species in Florida and California and, for the most critical groups, develop tailored conservation strategies, including habitat restoration, captive breeding and reintroduction programs.
Nearly one-third of Walt Disney World Resort (over 8,000 acres) has been permanently set aside for wildlife conservation. Naturally, as the founding member of the Florida Butterfly Monitoring Network, Disney has reserved part of this space to an important butterfly monitoring program! Since its inception in 2004, the program has recorded more than 70 butterfly species on property. Several times a month, our biologists monitor the butterflies to learn more about their population patterns. This work helps to identify endangered species and develop conservation strategies.
We are particularly proud of our work with the rare atala hairstreak butterfly, once thought to be extinct in Florida. Disney Cast Members in Orlando raise the butterflies and then release them into their native habitat on the coast—at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort—where the species’ host plant grows in abundance. Speaking of plants, Disney also implements Integrated Pest Management techniques to minimize the negative effects of pesticides on the winged insects.
Walt Disney World Resort is home to more than 70 butterfly species! Next time you see a beautiful flower, stop, look—and see what flutters by!
Disney is Butterfly Friendly!
Some Disney Resort hotels have gardens dedicated to Florida butterfly species, with plants both for common butterflies like the zebra longwing and at-risk species like the Duke’s Skipper. Nectar plants like firebush and wild petunia and host plants like milkweed and passion vines are attracting local species by providing tasty nectar and homes!
If you see milkweed—the host plant for the monarch butterfly—take a moment to look for eggs, caterpillars, a chrysalis or a beautiful adult! Whatever the time of year, be sure to keep a lookout for some of the butterfly species you might see at Walt Disney World Resort:
The Eastern tiger swallowtail is one of the most recognized butterflies in North America, thanks to their large yellow wings, black tiger stripes and wingspans of up to 6 inches! There are a variety of swallowtail species here at the Resort.
Whites and Sulphurs
Sulphur butterflies are usually yellow, orange or white, and can often be found year round in Florida. Look for the bright yellow wings of the orange-barred Sulphur on bright red flowers, but note—they often perch with their wings closed!
These butterflies often have hairy forelegs that resemble tiny brushes. Species include monarchs, Gulf fritillaries (large-to- medium butterflies with long, narrow orange wings with silvery spots) and the zebra longwing—the official state butterfly of Florida!
Skippers tend to be small, but their powerful wings help them fly up to 20 miles per hour! They are not as colorful as other butterflies, but they sure are fast! Look for tropical checkered-skippers (dark brown wings and small white spots) or long-tailed skippers (bluish green iridescent body).
The second-largest family of butterflies, these are often small and dainty, with brightly colored, iridescent wings—and clever defenses. The ceraunus blue scares off predators with false eye markings on its hind wings, while the gray hairstreak has trailing filaments that distract and confuse its enemies.
A butterfly goes where it pleases and pleases where it goes.
How Do Butterflies Smell?
Butterflies smell with their antennae—and taste with their feet! They have a pair of smooth, golf club-like antennae on their heads that function as a nose, helping to detect the scents of flowers and to find other butterflies. They also have “taste buds” in their feet that allow them to taste whatever they land on. If they land on something sweet, they uncurl their special tongue, called a proboscis, into a long straw-like structure for drinking water and sipping nectar.
From Egg to Butterfly
Butterflies undergo complete metamorphosis—starting their life in one form and eventually changing into a completely different form! Life begins as a small egg, from which a caterpillar hatches. Caterpillars then begin eating and growing at an enormous rate—starting with their own egg shell! Soon they are able to eat their own body weight or more in plant material each day, until they are hundreds or even thousands of times bigger than they were as hatchlings! After a few weeks as a caterpillar, they enter the pupal stage and form a hardened case, called a chrysalis—and the magic begins. When the transformation is complete, the pupal skin splits, the adult insect climbs out, and after its wings have expanded and dried, flies off—a fully grown, adult butterfly.
The Art of Self Defense
Many butterflies, like the Florida Leafwing, have coloration that aids in camouflage so they can hide from predators. Other species, like the giant owl butterfly of Central and South America, have what look like large eyes on their wings that scare off predators. Other species have vivid colors that warn predators that they are poisonous. Some non-poisonous species have a coloration that mimics poisonous species—like viceroys mimicking monarchs—so they, too, are ignored by predators!
Caterpillars don’t just eat any leaf they come across—they feed only on the vegetation of their specific host plants, which varies from species to species. Monarchs only lay their eggs on milkweed, and the caterpillars refuse to eat anything but milkweed—though adults may feed on the sugar-rich nectar produced by many different flowers. Some butterflies get their “sugar fix” by drinking the juice of rotting fruit. The zebra longwing can eat protein-rich pollen, which gives them one of the longest life spans of any butterfly—up to 9 months—compared to 1 month for most species!
Hey, Hey, We’re the Pollinators!
Adult butterflies visit many flowers each day to find their favorite nectar. As they land on flowers, pollen grains stick to their bodies and feet and are transferred to other flowers. When the flowers belong to the same species, the egg cells of the second flower are fertilized, and the flower can now make seeds and reproduce! That’s incredibly important, because almost a third of all human foods and beverages depend on pollinators to create seeds—about 1,000 plants if you include plants grown for spices, medicines and fibers. Of course, butterflies aren’t the only pollinators. Other important pollinators include the birds and the bees—and bats!
Most butterflies are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day. In the mornings, a butterfly opens its wings and orients itself towards the sun. Once its flight muscles warm up, the butterfly flies away to explore its environment. Butterflies also sunbathe to show off their beautiful colors—both to attract a mate and warn predators that they are poisonous!
Though some butterfly species are happy to spend their lives in one place, others migrate huge distances! Migration helps the long-term survival of the species by distancing new generations of caterpillars from each other, thus ensuring adequate food sources. Each fall, up to a billion monarch butterflies travel from North America to the oyamel fir forests of central Mexico—the longest migration of any insect on the planet!
What can you do to protect butterflies and their habitats?
Say No to Spray
Protect nature and avoid or reduce using pesticides, and instead choose natural pest control such as physically removing unwanted pests or releasing beneficial insects like ladybugs that eat them. If you must use a pesticide, choose one derived from natural sources and spray at night when butterflies are less active. Try to use chemicals only on affected areas and avoid spraying butterfly host and nectar plants!
Create Your Own Butterfly Garden
Borrow a butterfly field guide from your library or look online to learn about the butterflies that live in your backyard. Buy the correct host plants for your area and plant them around your home, school and community—so butterflies can lay their eggs and caterpillars can find food. Choose a variety of colored flowers (including whites and yellows) to supply food all year long, and make clumps of color by planting certain plants together. Finally, you can help butterflies stay hydrated with a simple saucer of shallow water. Better yet, get your backyard certified as Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation!
Visit the Websites Below
Discover how you can help make the world a better place for butterflies and their habitats.
“I have learned from the animal world, and what everyone will learn who studies it, is a renewed sense of kinship with the Earth and all its inhabitants.” – Walt Disney