Colombia has 20% of the Butterflies in the World: The Butterfly Kingdom.

Colombia is a butterfly paradise. Our country is second in the world in butterfly species, after Peru, with around 3400 species. Besides this, Colombia is the first country, above Peru and Brazil, in unique butterfly species with 350 endemic species.

Butterflies, despite their deceptive fragility, are an “evolutionary success story” after completing more than 250 million years on Earth, they met with the dinosaurs!

Butterflies are important bioindicators. The presence of butterflies is an indicator of the health of habitats because they play a fundamental role in pollination and feeding other animals.

13 Butterfly Facts

Butterflies don’t eat. They drink! The proboscis is like a straw, and serves to suck the nectar from the flowers. In the resting state, the proboscis is rolled into a spiral.
  1. The order of the Butterflies (a.ka. Lepidoptera) is characterized mainly by its wings covered with scales, like fish!… but different.
  2. Butterflies don’t eat. They drink. They have the proboscis which is a very long tube, like a straw, that serves to suck the nectar from the flowers. In the resting state, the proboscis is rolled into a spiral.
  3. The scales of the butterflies are used for thermoregulation, courtship, and signaling.
  4. There are the so-called moths or night butterflies, and the butterflies or day butterflies. The way to differentiate a moth from a butterfly is by looking at their antenna. In the case of butterflies, they end with a thickened tip, and in the case of moths, their antennae end with a sharp tip.
  5. The colors of the butterflies are produced by special cells in the scales of their wings. The scales on the butterflies’ wings alter the reflection of light, and this is how they produce those striking and often iridescent colors that amaze us.
  6. Butterfly wings have veins, and these are crucial in differentiating between species.
  7. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis and go through the stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult or imago.
  8. Although the vast majority of butterflies feed on plants, there are a few species that are carnivorous, but some even eat wool or other materials.
  9. Female butterflies lay their eggs on plants.
  10. Butterflies migrate. Like birds!. And they also navigate to orientate themselves using coastal lines, mountains, roads, the sun, and even the Earth’s magnetic field.
  11. The biggest butterfly can reach a wingspan of about 28 to 31 centimeters (11 to 12 inches). Unfortunately, this butterfly is not found in Colombia, but in New Guinea, it is The Queen Alexandra Birdwing (Ornithoptera alexandrae).
  12. There is a moth which looks like a hummingbird! The Hummingbird hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum). But it is distributed throughout the northern Old World from Portugal to Japan, not in Colombia.
  13. Interestingly, the longest life cycle of a butterfly in the world was recorded in the Cundinamarca-Boyacá highlands. It is the endemic species of Colombia Neopedaliodes zipa, with a duration of 333 days.
Butterfly in Caterpillar (larva) Stage of Development
The Queen Alexandra Birdwing (Ornithoptera alexandrae) Source Natural History Museum Scott, B., & Smith , V. (2014): Dataset title
Hummingbird hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) ©Zeynel Cebeci

Butterflies of Colombia

Did you know that Colombia has 20% of the butterflies in the world? Yes! And this is because of its high habitat variation, which is generated by the Andean uneven topography, and a strategic geographical position in northern South America.

Despite such richness, Colombia is far from having an adequate inventory of its biodiversity in butterflies, as it is estimated that only 5 to 10 percent of species of this group of insects are known in the country.

Siproeta stelenes (malachite) at the Mariposario of the Botanical Garden of Quindío

Butterfly species in Colombia are widely distributed throughout the natural regions of Colombia. The Eastern mountain range of the Colombian Andes is the richest with 1813 species.

After the Andean region follow the biogeographic Chocó with 500 species, the Orinoco with 200 species, the Amazon region with 350 species, the Perijá mountain range with 200 species, the Caribbean region with 150 species, and San Andrés island with 59 species.

The Prepona and Morpho genus are one of the most representative and iconic, not only for experts but also for butterfly lovers.

Butterfly Hotspots in Colombia

The “hotspots” of butterflies in Colombia are:

  • the Andean-Amazon foothills,
  • the Eastern cordillera,
  • the department of Putumayo,
  • the low forests of Chocó, and
  • the Andean region.

However, there are still many species to be discovered and described.

How is a Butterfly Watching Tour?

First of all, good news, you don’t have to get up early. This is because the greatest number of butterfly sightings are made at times of greater sunshine. Approximately between 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

A butterfly tour begins peacefully after an 8 am breakfast. You head to the field around 9 or 10 in the morning and in the afternoon between 3 and 4 p.m., after a good nap.

Now if you’re looking for moths, go to the nearest lamps, at night.

But don’t get too confident, butterflies also need to be attracted, just like birds. And this is possible by knowing what they feed on.

Adult butterflies feed on the nectar and pollen grains of flowers, animal excrement, and/or rotting and fermented fruits, which can be mango, guava, or bananas. They can also be found absorbing iodine accumulated in the sand of small beaches and rivers.

Attracting Butterflies at the Mariposario of the Botanical Garden of Quindío

Thus, there will be some you find among the flowers and others in the wet sand and mud puddles. But some are attracted mostly by rotten fruits, and you will even have to put rotten fish as a lure to attract them. Well, not you, your guide.

You should keep in mind that there is a certain quantity of uncertainty in a butterfly tour. Butterfly watching is highly dependent upon local environmental and weather conditions.

The Colombian Butterfly Routes

Mysarbia sejanus stolli at the Amazonas River ©Fredy Montero Abril

Andean Region

  • Santa María, Arcabuco and Otanche in Boyacá
  • Chicaque Natural Park, near to Bogotá.
  • The Bogotá Savannah.
  • Open Sky Pedagogical Butterfly Farm “Mauricio Babilonia” in Santander.
  • Piedras Blancas Entomological and Butterfly Museum in Antioquia.

Eastern Plains

  • Bosque Bavaria in Meta.
  • Mururito Nature Reserve in the Orinoco – Amazon confluence
  • Casanare Piedmont

Chocó Region

  • Tatamá National Park in the Low forests of Chocó Region
  • Río Ñambí Nature Reserve

Magdalena Valley

  • Rio Claro Canyon Reserve
  • Victoria, Caldas

Amazon Region

  • Putumayo

Caribbean Region

  • Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
  • Serranía del Perijá

The Coffee Triangle Region

  • Butterfly Observatory (Mariposario) at the Botanical Garden of Quindío.

Finally, be aware that nature tourism in Colombia is young. Thus, much improvement is needed in terms of hotel and road infrastructure, especially in places that are hotspots. So, don’t expect to find high-level services in all the places you want to visit.

Mariposario (Butterfly Observatory) at the Botanical Garden of Quindío

Stay tuned for more information and posts about our butterfly destinations in Colombia!

Plan your trip with us! Our goal is to organize your butterfly watching trip in Colombia that you will never forget!


About the author

Sara Colmenares

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.