When it rains, it can be a serious inconvenience for anyone. After all, having our clothes soaked can be a difficult endeavor, leading us to feel cold and to develop that wet smell. Either way, it is not comfortable to have to deal with.
But because of our size as human beings, it is mostly an inconvenience at best. The raindrops don’t do any real damage to our bodies in a short period of time. With other creatures, rain presents a very real and very dangerous problem to deal with.
Having said that, you may have noticed that butterflies seem to disappear when the rain rolls in. It may have just felt as if it was an ill-conceived assumption but it is actually what happens when rain begins to fall. And this is for a very specific reason.
Can Butterflies Fly in the Rain?
The short answer is that, no, they can’t fly in the rain. What may surprise you is that there are a couple of factors that weigh heavily into their inability to fly when the inclement weather begins to come into play.
It isn’t even necessarily that they can’t fly in the rain; it is just that it is quite dangerous for them to do so. If you noticed the butterflies beginning to disappear as the rain comes in, it is because the butterflies are following their natural instincts and protecting themselves.
So why can’t butterflies fly in the rain? What is stopping them from zipping around as they would in the sunlight?
Weight of the Raindrops
While raindrops are small matters to you and I, they are nothing trivial to a butterfly. Keep in mind that the average monarch butterfly is around 500 milligrams or so. That isn’t very much but compare it to the size of a large raindrop, which is around 70 milligrams and could be more.
When the average raindrop is roughly 1/7th the entire mass of the butterfly, it prevents very real dangers to the butterfly. To put it in perspective, this is the equivalent of a full-sized human being getting pelted by a water balloon if that water balloon was twice the mass of most bowling balls.
That is what the average butterfly has to deal with when the rain begins to fall. And they have to deal with consistent, repeated falling raindrops. It makes it nearly impossible to fully avoid them without taking serious damage.
Dependency on the Sun
There is another reason why butterflies begin to dart into protective covering when the skies get dark and breezes become stronger. In addition to the falling rain providing a serious risk of injury or death, the cool air that is generated by the storms has an impact too.
When there are heavy rains and wind, those cooler temperatures can get below the thermal threshold that butterflies need for flight. The sunlight actually warms their flight muscles at a rapid rate, allowing them to zip around when the sun is bright.
Without that solar radiation, they may not have the strength that they need to fly properly. So not only is there now a threat of injury or death from raindrops but it limits their ability to fly away from predators.
What About When It’s Dark?
Because they are so dependent on solar radiation for their ability to fly, the question may be what they are doing when the sun goes down. Generally speaking, butterflies will go to a protected location called a roost. They will do this within an hour or two of the sun going down.
A roost can be something such as an herbaceous plant, tall grass, woody shrubs, under large leaves, and even in manmade objects such as hanging baskets or fences. They can also roost in some of the vegetation that is beneath an overhanging tree.
The goal for the butterfly here is to provide the proper shelter until the sun comes out again. When they don’t have proper solar radiation, they become much more susceptible to predators and seclusion is their only option.
Depending on the type of butterfly involved, they can actually roost with some of their peers. And what is remarkable is that butterflies show the same kind of lethargic behavior that some humans do on rainy mornings. After all, when the rain comes, it disrupts their day by several hours and limits the amount of flying that they can get in before the sun goes down.
So the next time that it rains and you happen to notice that there are no butterflies around, you can have the knowledge that they are off roosting until the weather passes or the next day comes. The sunlight is not just something that humans want and need; butterflies rely on it as well.