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Do Butterflies Have Eyes?

Written By Richie Alston


Do Butterflies Have Eyes

Did you know that butterflies are considered blind as they cannot pick out sharp images? But if butterflies are blind, how do they find their way towards flowers to pollinate them?  Why does a butterfly fly away when we come near it? And, do butterflies have eyes or not?

Yes, butterflies do have eyes. Butterflies have a pair of eyes. These individual eyes are made up of lots and lots of tiny eyes which give a butterfly a wide field of vision.

Just like humans, butterflies also have two eyes.  Both of these eyes are very different from each other. One is a single-chambered eye, and the other is a compound eye. The single-chambered eye helps a butterfly to view individual objects, whereas the compound eye is used mostly as the primary eyesight. 

However, the anatomy of a butterfly’s eye is much more interesting. We have covered everything you could want to know about a butterfly and its eyes below:

How Does a Butterfly See?

Butterflies have unique eyes. Butterflies see things very differently than how a human does.  They can see colour patterns that are hidden from our eyes.  Butterflies are also able to differentiate between polarized and UV lights and are even able to detect objects that move incredibly fast. 

This is because their eyes are made of many sharp, image-forming eyes, also known as ommatidia.  

Imagine you are in a dark room with multiple pictures on the wall.  If you switch on a UV light in this room, all the pictures on the wall will pop and stand out as they start glowing. The colours of the pictures will pop and will be very distinct. 

This is how butterflies are said to view the world around them. 

Just as the colours of the picture will stand out in a dark room while showcasing their bright popping colours, flowers stand out for butterflies due to their vibrant colours. 

When butterflies fly around, especially in gardens, they are incredibly attracted to flowers which stand out like beacons signalling to them. Colours such as white appear as a bright glow to butterflies.

Are Butterflies Blind?

No, butterflies are not blind. They may not see precisely the same as humans do, but they can detect a range of colours.

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How Many Eyes Does a Butterfly Have?

Just like humans do, butterflies also have a pair of eyes.  However, a butterfly’s eyes have layers of lenses, known as compound eyes. This gives butterflies a vision that enables them to see in multiple directions simultaneously. 

The eyes are placed on each side of the head of a butterfly, and every eye is made up of almost thousands of ommatidia or individual eyes. Each eye is made up of a cone and a cornea. 

It is said that each eye contains approximately 12,000 to 17,000 ommatidia which give butterflies a complete 360-degree view of their surroundings. 

Why Do Some Butterflies Have Eyespots?

Nature has given butterflies (and moths) eye spots to help them defend themselves against predators. 

Instead of trying to mitigate a predator attack completely, these eye spots help distract the predators. These spots draw the predator’s attention and they end up attacking unimportant butterfly body parts that aren’t crucial for survival.

The eyespots are essentially sacrificial.

If a predator aims for a butterfly’s head and is successful, it could kill the butterfly.  With the eye spots, they focus on other parts that don’t usually prove fatal if they’re under attack.

However, not all butterflies tend to use their eyespots similarly.  Some use their eyespots to intimidate their predators. These eye spots often replicate the predator’s eyes. This makes the butterflies appear more intimidating and gives the predators an illusion that they are facing a bigger, more dangerous animal. 

Eyespots that contain shiny centres prove to be a more effective predator deterrent and the eyespots with a more contrasting and brighter coloured pattern help steer the predator away. 

Lastly, eyespots also help butterflies reproduce safely. When it is time for the butterflies to reproduce, they fly more than usual and are, therefore, more prone to predatory attacks.  During this phase, eye spots appear more visible and prominent than usual and help keep the attackers at bay. 

What are Eyespots?

Butterflies have beautiful patterns or markings on their wings. It’s what makes them so elegant. These patterns often appear as extra butterfly eyes. 

These patterns are called eyespots. 

Eyespots appear to stand out on a butterfly’s wing compared to other markings. These spots come in various sizes and colours, depending on the butterfly. 

Eyespots can be found on both larvae and adult butterflies.  They are often circled in shape made with rings and filled with contrasting colours.  Eyespots are not functioning eyes but are simply patterns on the butterfly that are supposed to replicate the appearance of eyes.


If you have further questions about butterflies and their ability to see, check these FAQs out:

Do Butterflies Have 12,000 Eyes?

Some butterflies will have 12,000 eyes. A butterfly has a pair of eyes. These eyes contains thousands of smaller eyes. This can range anywhere from 12,000 to 17,000.

Do Butterflies Only Have 2 Eyes?

It depends on how you look at it. A butterfly has a pair of eyes, much like a human has a pair of eyes. However, each of these individual eyes is different. They are made up of thousands and thousands of tiny eyes. So, they have 2 main eyes but each of these eyes are made up of lots of eyes.

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