Peacock Butterfly Facts

Scientific Name: Aglais io (formerly Inachis io)

Peacock butterfly

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Peacock butterflies are part of class Insecta and are prevalent across Europe and Asia. They prefer temperate habitats like woods and open fields. There are two subspecies, one in Europe and another in Japan, Russia, and the Far East. These butterflies hibernate during the winter and emerge in late spring. Their name comes from Io, the daughter of Inachus, in Greek mythology. Previously classified as Inachis io, they are now classified as Aglais io, but the terms are synonymous.

Fast Facts

  • Scientific Name: Aglais io
  • Common Names: Peacock butterfly, European peacock
  • Order: Lepidoptera
  • Basic Animal Group: Invertebrate
  • Size: 2.25 to 2.5 inches wingspan
  • Life Span: About a year
  • Diet: Nectar, sap, rotten fruit
  • Habitat: Temperate regions, including woods, fields, meadows, and gardens
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: Peacock butterflies have a pattern of eyespots on their wings that confuse potential predators.

Description

Peacock butterflies are large, colorful butterflies, sporting wingspans of up to 2.5 inches. The tops of their wings are red, with rusty brown splotches and gray-black edges. They also have eyespots on the backs of their wings similar to eyespots on peacocks. The underside of the wing is a dark brown-black color similar to dead leaves.

Peacock butterfly
Peacock butterfly on blossom of an aster. Westend61 / Getty Images

Male peacock butterflies only have one elongated segment. Females have five segments with the head and body covered in hair. The front legs of these butterflies are shortened and used for cleaning instead of walking. The head has two large eyes, two antenna for detecting air currents, a proboscis for feeding, and two forward-facing protrusions that serve to protect the proboscis. Larvae are shiny black caterpillars with spines along their backs. The cocoon is grayish green or brown with two horns at the head.

Habitat and Distribution

Their habitat consists of temperate regions across Europe and Asia. They primarily live in woods, fields, pastures, meadows, and gardens, but they can be found in lowlands and mountains reaching heights of approximately 8,200 feet. Their range includes Britain and Ireland, Russia and eastern Siberia, as well as Korea and Japan. They can also be found in Turkey and northern Iran.

Diet and Behavior

From mid-July until winter, adults feed on the nectar from summer-flowering plants such as thistles and ragwort, as well as sap and honeydew. Into early autumn, they may also feed on rotten fruit to build up body fat in preparation for hibernation. Caterpillars eat the leaves of the plant they were laid on, which could be common nettle, small nettle, or hop.

Peacock butterflies emerge in late summer from their cocoons and hibernate in winter. They hide in hollow trees, dead wood, sheds, and attics for seven to eight months until the next spring. When threatened by predators, these butterflies have several defense mechanisms. The first is to blend into the environment and imitate a leaf by remaining motionless. The second is to spread its wings, revealing their eyespots to appear intimidating. During the winter, they may hiss to deter predators who can't see the eyespots due to low lighting conditions.

Reproduction and Offspring

Peacock Butterfly Caterpillars
Peacock Butterfly Caterpillars on Stinging Nettles. Jo Parsons / Moment / Getty Images

Mating season begins in May, right after hibernation and just before their death at some point later in the same month. After mating, females lay olive green eggs in large batches of up to 500 on the underside of leaves on host plants. These include stinging and common nettles and hops. The larvae hatch 1 to 2 weeks later. They are shiny and jet black in color with white spots and black spikes along their back.

The larvae collaborate to spin a communal web on top of the leaf where they live and eat. Once the food source is depleted, they move to another part of the plant and spin another web. As they grow, the larvae begin to feed separately and go through five stages of growth called instars. They shed their skin several times, and grow up to 1.6 inches by the end of the fifth stage. They pupate alone and emerge as adults in July, at which point they store up fat to survive the oncoming winter.

Conservation Status

Peacock butterflies are designated as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Their population was determined to be stable.

Sources

  • Doremi, Gianluca. "Inachis Io". Altervista, https://gdoremi.altervista.org/nymphalidae/Inachis_io_en.html.
  • "Peacock". Butterfly Conservation, https://butterfly-conservation.org/butterflies/peacock.
  • "Peacock Butterfly". IUCN Red List Of Threatened Species, 2009, https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/174218/7030659.
  • "Peacock Butterfly". The Royal Society For The Protection Of Birds, https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/other-garden-wildlife/insects-and-other-invertebrates/butterflies/peacock-butterfly/.
  • "Peacock Butterfly Facts". Trees For Life, https://treesforlife.org.uk/into-the-forest/trees-plants-animals/insects-2/peacock-butterfly/.
  • Portwood, Ellie. "Aglais Io (Peacock Butterfly)". Animal Diversity Web, 2002, https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Aglais_io/.