Do Butterflies Feel Pain?


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Butterflies are wonderful little creatures – which is why it can seem harsh to wonder what happens to them if they come into harm’s way. Do butterflies feel pain?

Research suggests that butterflies don’t feel pain as we understand it. However, butterflies do possess nervous systems – which means that they do have the capacity to feel a sense of touch.

Why can’t butterflies feel pain?

Crucially, it is all about pain receptors. While butterflies have brains, hearts, and nerve endings, research suggests that they lack the sophisticated pain receptors that you and I possess. That doesn’t, however, mean that they don’t feel discomfort under certain circumstances.

Butterfly biology is intriguing – their nervous system is further different from our own as it is built into their thorax. Our nerve centers are in our heads – and that’s not the only thing that’s strange about the butterfly.

While butterflies are at risk of damage and injury, anecdotal evidence suggests that they rarely let physical harm impede them. This could, theoretically, be linked to their lack of pain receptors.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we have any right to cause butterflies harm! They are still exceptionally delicate creatures – meaning that we must always respect butterflies heading into our gardens.

Looking after butterflies is as simple as lining up butterfly-friendly plants and flowers that they’re likely to feed on. However, it’s also a good idea to leave a little water out for them and essentially leave these beautiful insects to their daily fluttering.

You can attract butterflies to your hand, but again – go easy on them. Just because they don’t feel pain the way we do, doesn’t mean you should handle them roughly.

How long do butterflies live?

Generally speaking, most butterflies only live for about a month. However, some have been known to live for several months while others live only for a few days! This, of course, depends on their species, diet, and location. There are also plenty of things out there that can harm butterflies, killing them early on. 

It’s another reason why we need to consider doing more for the butterflies in our gardens – such as rewilding our lawns and keeping a variety of flowers and plant life growing for them to investigate. 

You should also consider cutting back on pesticides – while the average butterfly isn’t likely to feel pain from a chemical spray, it’s very likely to cut its life short. Its life is already over in a blink – don’t make it go by any quicker!

Do butterflies feel pain in their wings?

No, just as butterflies can’t feel pain elsewhere in their body, they can’t feel pain in their wings, either. However, that isn’t to say that butterfly wings can’t get damaged. Unfortunately, due to their fragility, you may come across a butterfly or two with torn or broken wings as you welcome them into your garden.

If you do come across a butterfly with broken wings, unfortunately, there isn’t too much that you can physically do. You should never try and fix a butterfly’s wings for the simple reason that you may do more harm than good – again, these wings are extremely fragile, and a butterfly you’re trying to help could try fluttering away out of fear or stress. Therefore, it’s often best to try and make your garden as comfortable as possible for it.

In some cases, it may be considered humane to gently remove a piece of wing that may be hanging from an injured butterfly you notice in peril. After all, it won’t feel any pain. That said, it’s often the best idea to let nature stick to its path. In rare cases, animal specialists may be able to repair wings with intensive surgery – meaning it’s never a good idea to take a closer look unless you know exactly what you are doing. Surgery is required to repair the wing because butterflies’ wings don’t grow back.

If you’d like to revive or care for a butterfly that may be injured, be sure to offer it a little sugar water – but only ever make sure to use natural sugar that they’d likely find in the wild.

Can a butterfly heal a broken wing?

Butterflies can’t heal broken wings on their own. While humans are perfectly capable of setting bones to heal when they break, once a butterfly’s wing is torn, it’s sadly torn for good.

That said, don’t be too downhearted. Anecdotal evidence suggests that butterflies can adapt remarkably well to wing damage – perhaps, as a result of their lack of pain receptors, they have little reason to stop and panic! A butterfly can feasibly fly away with some wing damage – so it’s best to leave them to it.

In cases where butterflies are unable to fly again due to wing damage, specialists can step in to help out. To summarize – we’d recommend you focus on creating a fantastic wild garden for these beautiful beasts to enjoy. They will find their own way in the wild!

About The Author
Robert has been an avid birdwatcher pretty much his entire life. Living in the suburbs he does his best to bring wild birds into his backyard. He currently has 13+ bird feeders in his yard and also raises and races homing pigeons. Robert writes part-time for Wild Yards, mostly about the subject he cares most about - birds.

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