Dear Dr. Universe: Where do butterflies go when it rains? –Charleigh, 8, Minor Hill, Tenn.
Whenever there’s heavy rains or winds, butterflies seem to disappear. This is because butterflies hide when it rains. That’s what I found out from my friend David G. James who is an associate professor at Washington State University. He studies insects, including butterflies, in the Pacific Northwest.
When a storm comes in, different butterfly species hide in many unique places. Some butterflies sit low, down in grasses or flowers, while others go into bushes and trees. Some butterflies like to roost in vegetation beneath large trees. The leaves of these trees intercept raindrops and reduce the impact on the butterflies below.
Rain is a threat to butterflies for multiple reasons. Most butterflies need a body temperature of at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit to fly. If they tried to fly when it is colder they would be very weak and most likely fall to the ground.
Butterflies are also much smaller than you and me. An average monarch weighs roughly 500 milligrams and large raindrops have a mass of 70 milligrams or more. According to Scientific American, a raindrop this size striking a monarch would be equivalent to a human being pelted with water balloons weighing as much as two bowling balls.
If a butterfly does get wet, it simply stays still until the water evaporates off their body. Butterflies often bask in the sun to dry their wings.
The Zebra Longwing Butterflies, like to find shelter in the company of one another during the evening or periods of rain. When they are all together and showing off their bright stripes, it makes them easy to spot.
Rain can be annoying for some species, including aquatic animals. During extremely hard rain storms, other animals such as frogs, turtles, and fish disappear to the depths of lakes and ponds or try to seek shelter under rocks, driftwood, and aquatic plants.
James said that if you want to attract butterflies to your yard it’s best to plant nectar-producing plants that are native to where you live. You should also make sure your butterfly garden includes shrubs, tall grasses, trees, dead branches or rock piles for shelter.
If you come across a resting butterfly, resist the urge to touch it. It will move when it is nice and warm. We don’t want to risk damaging wings with our fingers. If you can spot them, let me know where you see butterflies hiding from the rain where you live.
Hannah Welzbacker (and Dr. Universe)
Hannah Welzbacker contributed this article. She is a student in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.