Eyespots on the wings of butterflies and moths are a type of wing decoration that resembles large mammal ayes.
Some eyespots are full of dark circles with or without margins. Other eyespots even have a white central section which is shown to be even more effective at deterring potential predators.
Numerous species of butterflies and moths have eyes on their wings. Some species of butterflies are particularly known for having more than 2 eyespots.
The number of eyespots is believed to be subject to evolution. Some butterflies have a few eyespots which help keep predators away. Others have too many eyespots which may even spark the interest of predators.
Why Do Some Butterflies And Moths Have Eyespots?
Eyespots on butterflies and moths make them look very different. These types of decorations are rooted in 3 directions towards their role, as eyespots are not an accidental coloring resulting in butterflies.
Intimidating potential predators is one of the first roles of eyespots. Predators see these eyespots as the eyes of something that appears bigger and that may be considerably more dangerous than butterflies.
Some butterflies always show their eyespots all the time while others only show their eyespots in the presence of a perceived threat. This happens when the wings are closed and the eyespots are only visible with open wings.
To attract predators to non-vital body parts
Another theory about eyespots on butterflies and moths includes their positioning. Eyespots are always located towards the outer edges of the wings and never close to the body.
Fans of this theory say butterflies have developed to show eyespots on the outer edges of the wings so that predators bite these areas first.
Butterflies and moths can survive superficial bites of the outer wings.
Mimicry is among the most common theories as to why butterflies and moths have eyespots. These eyespots mimic other species, typically species of animals that share the same habitat.
Butterflies take on the color of the eyes of other animals in the same habitat with their eyespots so that they are perceived as something else, typically fearsome creatures.
The extent to which a butterfly or a moth mimics predators in its area is up to debate. Some believe butterflies can even mimic animals in other areas, especially in the case of migrating butterflies.
Butterflies And Moths With Eyes on Wings
Some of the most common butterflies and moths are found all around the world. These species have 2 or more eyespots on the ventral or dorsal wings.
1. Common Buckeye
Common Buckeye butterflies (Junonia coenia) are a Southern species with a common presence in California.
The Common Buckeye has a brown base color and multiple eyespots. These eyespots are found on the outer edges of the wings, just as with most other species.
There are 2 large eyespots and 2 small eyespots on each wing.
Brown and black are the main colors of the large eyespots while smaller eyespots located higher on the upper wings are black.
It’s believed the eyespots on the Common Buckeye have a purely defensive nature. These eyespots scare predators away.
2. Gray Hairstreak
Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) are some of the most common butterflies with eyespots in North America.
While there’s a difference in the coloring of the male and the female, both sexes of this species have eyespots on the hindwings.
Male Gray Hairstreaks are gray whole females are blue-gray.
Both males and females have eyespots on the lower hindwings. These eyespots are orange and black and a bit atypical in their positioning as they’re seen closer to the body of the species than in other butterflies.
However, the lower body of the Gray Hairstreak is also orange which might scare off predators.
3. Polyphemus Moth
Polyphemus Moths (Antheraea polyphemus) are some of the largest moth species in North America. These moths have a wingspan that can measure a maximum of 6 inches.
The coloring of the species is mainly orientated towards camouflage. Even such large moths have plenty of predators.
2 large eyespots are seen on its hindwings. Black and blue, the eyespots also have a yellow central section.
Appearing like the eyes of a large species, these eyespots are highly contrasting to the brown and light brown color of the wings.
The eyespots on the hindwings are only visible when the wings are fully open.
Host trees are home to many birds and this is why the Polyphemus Moth has to mimic the look of other animals.
These moths live on American elm and willows, common trees for many birds and bugs.
4. Gray Buckeye
Common East of The Rocky Mountains, Gray Buckeye butterflies (Junonia grisea) are similar to the Common Buckeye.
Both have 4 eyespots grouped around the outer wings.
Gray Buckeye butterflies have 2 large eyespots and 2 small eyespots placed in a line. There are 4 eyespots across the margins of each wing.
The larger eyespots are located in the center, flanked by 2 smaller eyespots.
The smallest eyespot on the lower side of the hindwing is black with a double yellow and black border.
Black and orange dominate the color of the following eyespot upper on the hindwing.
Black and white eyespots are seen on the upper wings. The lower eyespot has double yellow and black borders while the eyespots higher up the upper wing have orange and black borders.
As with the Common Buckeye, the Gray Buckeye has its eyespots as far as possible from the body.
5. Io Moth
Common in North America and South America, Io moths (Automeris io) are among the most prominent yellow moths in the world.
These yellow moths have large eyespots on the hindwings. The location of the eyespots is atypical as they are found in the central part of the hindwings.
The inner part of the hindwings between the eyespots and the body is red.
Black dominates the eyespots but the central part is white to mimic light reflection in the eyes of a larger animal.
The combination of red and black is contrasting the yellow wings of the species. Vulnerable to predator attacks, Io moths maintain some of the colorings of their eggs as adults.
The eggs of Io moths are also yellow, and white, with a black dot.
Caterpillars of the species can also sting for protection, even if they have a different green color to Io moth eggs and Io moth adults.
6. Common Wood-Nymph
Common Wood-Nymphs (Cercyonis pegala) are also known as Goggle eyes for their large eyespots.
The species is highly common in the US. It has a high presence in all states except Florida and California with reported populations across Southern Canada.
Common Wood-Nymphs only have 2 eyespots. They are visible on the outer side of the upper wings.
These eyespots have brown to black coloring. A central white section in the form of a small dot further contrasts the eyespots.
Pale yellow bordering makes these eyespots stand out even more.
The brown wings of the species are mostly light brown dorsally and ventrally.
2 smaller eyespots are seen on the ventral side of the wings. The reduced size of the ventral eyespots makes them difficult to spot compared to the large eyespots on the dorsal wings.
7. Northern Pearly-Eye
Native to North America, the Northern Pearly-Eye (Lethe anthedon) is a species with 14 total eyespots.
This brown butterfly has a light color and its eyespots are dark brown, contrasting its wings.
There’s a total of 7 eyespots on each side of the body. These eyespots are located on the outer wings.
Dark brown with a bright margin, the eyespots are the only decoration of the wings.
While there are more eyespots on the Northern Pearly-Eye’s wings, these aren’t all of the same sizes. Their eyespots are larger on the hindwings.
The species also shows smaller dark brown eyespots on the ventral side. These eyespots further exhibit a white central dot as opposed to the matte brown dorsal eyespots.
8. Blinded Sphinx
The blinded Sphinx (Paonias excaecata) is a large species that can reach a wingspan of more than 3 inches.
Blue eyespots are seen in this species. There’s only 1 eyespot on each wing.
The species has contrasting eyespots as the area around them is pink to orange.
The rest of the wings are brown, black, and dark brown. These colors help the species blend in with leaves on the ground as it prefers to live in the forest.
Blinded Sphinxes mainly live in forests where leaves fall from trees to the ground so they can hide among them. Their blue eyespots are only visible when their wings are fully open.
9. Small-eyed Sphinx
This native North American species (Paonias myops) is similar to the Blinded Sphinx. Both live in woodlands and only have a pair of eyespots.
Small-eyed Sphinxes have black and blue eyespots. The central area of the eyespots is blue.
The contrast of the eyespots to the hindwings is considerable given these are mostly yellow.
Brown patterned coloring is specific to the upperwings of this species.
Some believe the eyespots on the Small-eyed Sphinx on a bright yellow background are an evolution of the nocturnal nature of the species.
These butterflies are most active after sunset and their eyespots would not be visible on darker color wings.
10. Southwestern Eyed Sphinx
Common in the Pacific Northwest, the Southwestern Eyed Sphinx (Smerinthus ophthalmica) is a species that lives in woodlands and around water sources.
This species is present in the vegetation around water sources in high numbers.
2 large eyespots are seen on the hindwings of the species. These eyespots are located closer to the body but they sit on a pink-red background color without patterns on the hindwings for better visibility.
The upperwings are brown and dark brown.
Black and blue are the main colors of the eyespots. The central part of the eyespots is black with blue and black borders.
With the impression of a black pupil, the Southwestern Eyed Sphinx has large eyespots which make it seem like a different species as it sits on trees around water sources.
California is the state where the Southwestern Eyed Sphinx is seen in the highest numbers.
11. Eyed Brown
Native to North America, the Eyed Brown (Satyrodes eurydice) is a butterfly species found in the proximity of water sources, particularly lakes.
The butterfly is found on grasses that grow next to the water which is the host of its caterpillar.
Some of the most common grasses this species is seen on include lake sedges and wheat sedges.
This species has multiple brown eyespots on the edges of its wings.
Up to 18 eyespots are seen across its wings. They have varying sizes. All eyespots have white borders.
Brown, white, and yellow are among the main colors of the species. These bright colors make its dark eyespots even more visible.
12. Twintip Buckeye
Twintip Buckeyes (Junonia stemosa) are a newly-described native species.
Butterflies of this genus have brown wings and multiple eyespots of different colors.
As with almost all buckeyes, the Twintip buckeye has a few orange marks on the upper side of the upper wings.
The brown color of the wings starts to fade towards the hindwings but the eyespots are vividly colored.
The upper wings show blue and brown eyespots. The central portion is blue.
2 eyespots are seen on the upper wings. One is as large as those on the hindwing while the other is tiny and barely visible.
2 large eyespots are further visible on the hindwings.
These are brown eyespots with double yellow and black borders.
The positioning of these eyespots resembles the positioning of all eyespots on buckeyes. Found on the outer area of the wings, these eyespots sit far from the body.
13. European Peacock Butterfly
The European Peacock butterfly (Aglais io) has some of the largest eyespots in the world of butterflies.
This species has a red color or a rusty-red base color. It has one large eyespot on the hindwings and one large eyespot on the upper wings.
Blue, violet, red, yellow, and black are the colors of these multicolored eyespots.
The European Peacock butterfly uses these large eyespots for defense. It also makes a hissing sound as a secondary defense tactic against large predators.
14. Large Wall Brown
Large Wall Brown butterflies (Lasiommata maera) are a species of brown butterflies with red nuances. Multiple eyespots are characteristic of this species.
One large eyespot dominates the upper wings of the species. This is a black eyespot with 2 central white dots.
The hindwings exhibit 2 large eyespots and 2 tiny eyespots.
Black is the main color of the eyespots on the hindwings. A white central point is seen on these lower-wing eyespots.
All of them have light brown bordering so they stand out even more.
The body and the central section of the wings are brown.
This species (Parnassius apollo) bears the name of the Ancient Greek God Apollo. It’s native to Europe and much of Asia.
This species has black eyespots on the forewings and red eyespots on the hindwings.
Its red eyespots stand out more as they have a central white to gray section and black borders along the vivid gray color.
The species has a white to black color with multiple sections on the wings that look gray.
The body of Apollos is hairy gray.
You can only find this species at high altitudes as it prefers flowers that live in mountains.
16. Dark Blue Pansy
The Dark Blue Pansy (Junonia oenone) has a black base color. This species has multiple eyespots, mainly of a contrasting red color.
2 eyespots are seen on its forewings and 2 other eyespots are seen on its hindwings.
These eyespots have red margins, and blue, and white interior coloring. The eyespots on the hindwings have similar sizing compared to those on the forewings.
Red marks are further seen on the upper side of the forewings.
This species also has white patterns, also towards the margins of the wings, possibly to attract potential predators to this area of the wings.
17. Smooth-eyed Bushbrown
The eyespots on the Smooth-eye Bushbrown (Orsotriaena medus) appear to be in a perfect line on the forewings and the hindwings.
This species has a brown base color and a wide white band along the edges of the wings. Its eyespots are located between the wide white band and the margins of the wings.
4 large eyespots are seen on the species together with one tiny eyespot. These eyespots are made from concentric circles around a tiny white dot.
The circles are black and brown while the final circle is white and acts as a border.
Brown, white, and black dominate the appearance of the species.
18. Banded Treebrown
Both the dorsal and the ventral colors of the Banded Treebrown (Lethe confusa) show eyespots.
The dorsal of the species only shows faded dark brown eyespots that are barely visible given the species has dark brown wings.
Its ventral eyespots are more visible. The species is known to mimic a leaf whenever it sits with closed wings.
This is also the time when its 8 eyespots on the forewings and hindwings are seen.
All ventral eyespots of the species have black coloring with multiple white dots and yellow bordering.
It’s believed these eyespots are aimed at predators which should be tempted to bite or grab the edges of the wings instead of attaching the central section of the wings or the body of the butterfly which can be fatal.
19. South American Tropical Buckeye
The South American Tropical Buckeye (Junonia evarete) is a brown species with multiple eyespots.
Brown is the base color of the wings whole light brown is seen along its margins.
The species has orange marks on the upper forewings and a combination of tiny and large eyespots that are mainly black.
Its hindwings show black, blue, white, and yellow eyespots.
Some theories say these eyespots are purely decorative while others say the combination of various eyespot sizes and colors is made to keep predators away.
This species has plenty of predators in its habitat of South American tropical plains.
20. Swordgrass Brown
This dark species (Tisiphone abeona) has 3 barely visible eyespots. This is mainly due to its dark brown to black base color.
Yellow or brown marks are seen across the upper wings while the hindwings appear almost completely black.
White eyespots are seen across the wings of the species with black or a combination of black and red borders.
Swordgrass Brown butterflies exhibit eyespots both on the dorsal and on the ventral sides of the wings. The coloring of these eyespots is mainly dark and a combination of brown and black.
21. Eighty Butterfly
The eyespots on the Eighty Butterflies (Callicore sorana) are different from the eyespots of many other butterflies and moths.
These eyespots are only seen on the ventral side of the wings. They are made from 2 central sections of blue or white color and one or multiple circles that encompass these 2 wide central sections.
Some subspecies of the Eighty butterfly only have eyespots form from multiple circles without a central circular section.
Other subspecies of the Eighty butterfly also show similar eyespots dorsally on the hindwings which are further encompassed by black circles across the wings.
Eyespots aren’t characteristic of the dorsal side of the upper wings for Eighty butterflies.
22. Dark Owl Butterfly
Native to South America, Dark Owl butterflies (Caligo brasiliensis) don’t have any eyespots on the purple-blue wings.
These butterflies only show eyespots on their brown and white ventral wings. There is one central eyespot flanked by multiple tiny eyespots on the ventral wings.
The central eyespots have a large blue center with white marks. Black and yellow borders flank the blue section offering a contrast to the eyespot.
Predators are tempted to stay away from the species which tries to resemble a much larger animal sitting on tree bark where it rests during the day.
23. Lemon Pansy
This species (Junonia lemonias) is native to Asia, especially to woodlands in Cambodia.
Butterflies of this genus have light brown color with dark brown sections on the upper wings.
Colorful eyespots are seen across the margins of the wings. These eyespots have a blue and black interior as well as an orange exterior.
A thin brown border contrast the orange exterior of the eyespots.
24. Common Five-Ring
Native to Asia, the Common Five-Ring (Ypthima baldus) is one of the species with multiple eyespots where there are grouped pairs of eyespots.
7 eyespots are characteristic of the Common Five-Ring butterfly.
3 pairs of eyespots are joined with one large dominant eyespot being seen alone on the upper section of the forewings.
Black, blue, and brown form the coloring of these eyespots.
25. Meadow Argus
Common around Australia, the Meadow Argus (Junonia villida) is one of the brown species with black and orange eyespots.
It features multiple eyespots on the dorsal side of its wings. This species has black, blue, and orange eyespots with some individuals having yellow coloring instead of an orange ring around the eyespots.
There are 2 eyespots on the hindwings and one large eyespot in the upper wings of the species.
26. Eyed Hawkmoth
The species of Eyed Hawkmoth (Smerinthus ocellata) is a type of moth that only shows its eyespots when under threat.
Its resting wing position only partially shows the large eyespots on its hindwings.
The Eyed Hawkmoth has 2 large black and blue eyespots on the hindwings on a pink background which shows when a predator approaches while it prepares to flee.
Its body is brown as are the other sections of its upper wings.
Caterpillars with Eyespots
1. Spicebush Swallowtail
The caterpillar of the Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio Troilus) has large eyespots on its head.
Caterpillars of this genus go from yellow to green coloring. The large eyespots on the head are yellow and black.
The role of these eyespots is to keep predators away.
2. Tersa Sphinx Caterpillar
Tersa Sphinx moth caterpillars (Xylophanes Tersa) are green or brown, depending on their instar.
Not only are these caterpillars known for resembling snakes but they also feature multiple eyespots all along their body.
The largest brown eyespots are on the head but 2 smaller rows of eyespots are seen along the sides of its body.
3. Elephant Hawk Moth Caterpillar
The Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillar (Deilephila elpenor) has multiple eyespots on its body.
This species has brown or yellow and brown eyespots. The green caterpillar of the species only has eyespots towards the tail, a less vulnerable area of its body.
Eyespots in Other Animals
The world of animals is highly diverse and defensive mechanisms vary. Some of these defensive mechanisms are cross-species.
As a result, eyespots aren’t a unique trait of butterflies and moths. They are also seen on other animals.
Reptiles are among the animals that also have eyespots or marks that resemble eyes.
They might also exhibit lines or stripes which have a similar role.
Sand lizards (Lacerta agilis) are among the most common reptiles with eyespots. While they have different colors, both males and females are known for having multiple eyespots.
These eyespots run from head to tail and are characterized by a bright central part with a black border.
A series of wild cats also show different styles of eyespots. They use them for defense or to guide their young.
Bobcats (Lynx rufus) have large black and white eyespots behind their ears. These eyespots cover the entire ear.
Bobcats flatten their ear whenever they get into a fight. It’s believed they do this so that they can intimidate their opponents.
Birds are a large group that also have eyespots. The role of the eyespots might be tight to mating in birds as opposed to other species.
Peafowls (Pavo cristatus) have multiple eyespots around the wings. These typically show contrasting colors such as blue and black or green and black.
Male peafowls depend on their eyespots for mating success. Males have higher mating success the more eyespots they have.
Fish also have false eyes or eyespots along the body. Multiple types of ocean fish show this type of defensive body decoration.
The main role of eyespots in fish is to deter potential predators away from the head of the species.
- Foureye butterflyfish
This species of blue fish (Chaetodon capistratus) has a flattened body and small black eyes.
False eyes or large eyespots of a similar black color are seen close to its tail.
The fish only has one eyespot on each side of the tail. There is a type of evolutionary defense mechanism it aims to make predators attack the tail instead of the head.
Biting the head of the fish puts it in a vulnerable position that comes with a higher death risk compared to tail bites.
- Lane snapper
Lane snappers (Lutjanus synagris) are found in the US, particularly in The Gulf of Mexico.
This species is a marine fish that has eyespots.
As Foureye butterflyfish, lane snappers also have eyespots on the back of their body towards the tail for defensive purposes.
Eyespots are common both on butterflies and on moths. Even other animals use eyespots against predators.
Unlike other animals, butterflies and moths rarely rely on eyespots to attract mates as they use them defensively.
Butterflies use eyespots to defend themselves. Most butterflies have no other defensive mechanisms. Only a small number of species use hissing sounds to keep predators away.
This is why eyespots are seen across so many species. The majority of butterflies have eyespots at the margins of the wings, away from the body and the head.
Eyespot positioning shows these colorful marks are used to keep predators away from the vital parts of the body.
Butterflies and moths may also rely on eyespots as a surprise element to keep predators away.
Many species only show their eyespots when the wings are fully open, typically when they see an approaching predator.