4 Tips for Discovering Butterfly Eggs

4 Tips for Discovering Butterfly Eggs

butterfly eggs | macrophotography | butterfly identification | new hobby| conservation

Butterfly eggs aren’t the tiniest eggs on Planet Earth, but you will need optimal vision to see them. Despite their small size, butterfly eggs are fascinating to witness in nature. Most are perfectly round, some are domed with a flat bottom, others are eye-shaped and stand upright on very pointy tips. The colours and patterns etched into the shells of butterfly eggs vary between species as well. But, seeing any of these features all depends on timing …the older the egg becomes, the more translucent the shell becomes, and the closer the caterpillar gets to eating its way out!

The eggs of a Red Lacewing butterfly (Cethosia cydippe). Compared to the size of a standard chicken egg, butterfly eggs are miniature! Each egg typically weighs less than 1 gram. It’s a good idea to take a magnifying glass or camera with ‘macro mode’ to see eggs up close.

Here are our top tips for discovering butterfly eggs:

  1. Identify Local Butterfly Species

A good butterfly identification book will show you images of both male and female butterflies belonging to the same species, what their eggs and caterpillars look like, their geographic range, and any seasonal characteristics. If you are in Australia, our pick for best overall butterfly identification book is Sankowsky, G 2020. A Field Guide to Butterflies of Australia: Their Life Histories and Larval Host Plants. Reed New Holland Publishers, Sydney.


  1. Learn About Butterfly Hostplants

Although we see butterflies sipping nectar from a variety of different flowers, not all are considered hostplants for egg-laying. Butterfly caterpillars are in fact very fussy eaters. Female butterflies need to be sure they’re depositing their eggs on the right plant. So how do they know they’ve got the right plant? A ‘scratch n sniff’ test of course! Butterflies have sensors on their feet that are used to test the chemical signatures of plants. If a plant passes the ‘scratch n sniff’ test it means the chemical signature in that plant is ideal for depositing eggs. If the chemical signature doesn’t match, she’ll keep searching.


Reading Material
Use identification books for butterfly, caterpillar, egg & hostplant identification. Don’t forget to take advantage of online resources too. Inaturalist, is an interactive tool for uploading your photographs & identifying butterflies you see in your local area. In return, your work is pooled into a citizen science database which helps scientific research & conservation efforts. See how it works here: https://inaturalist.ala.org.au.


  1. Follow a Butterfly on a Sunny Day

While the majority of male butterflies are prettier than their female counterparts, it’s the female butterflies you’ll need to follow to locate eggs. Following a butterfly for an entire day probably isn’t possible. But, if you get your timing right, usually 11.30am – 2.30pm when the sun is at its brightest, you’ll have a fair chance.


  1. Observe Butterfly Behaviour

When you’ve arrived at the moment where your butterfly is hovering over a potential hostplant, carefully watch what she does next. If the ‘scratch n sniff’ test has returned a positive result, she’ll curl her abdomen into a ‘C’ shape and rather quickly deposit a single egg or a cluster of eggs.

Orange Migrant
Orange Migrant butterflies ( Catopsilia scylla ) laying eggs on a cutting of Senna auriculata at the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary. When observing butterfly eggs, be careful not to touch or damage the eggs on the hostplant.

Discovering butterfly eggs is a great hobby to do on your next outdoor adventure. At the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, we have a number of egg-laying areas for our butterflies. Look for the vases with single hostplant stems near our nectar feeding stations and you might be in luck. If one of our guides is nearby, feel free to ask for a closer look. Of course, these experiences might inspire you to plant a few of your own butterfly hostplants in your garden. This is a great way to help conserve our beautiful butterflies and to keep our pollinators pollinating!