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Hibernating butterflies in your house?

23/11/2010 15:24:13
butterflies/tortoiseshell indoor wx/tortoiseshell_indoor_wx

Small tortoiseshell butterfly in the Wildlife Extra office in winter.

Butterfly hibernation - Courtesy of Butterfly Conservation

November 2010. Apart from the occasional Red Admiral, it is very unlikely that you will see any butterflies in November & December. Most will be tucked away in vegetation, either as eggs, caterpillars or pupae.

Adult hibernation
However there are five UK butterflies that hibernate as adults: the Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, Peacock and Red Admiral. Two of these butterflies, the Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock, can sometimes be found hibernating in your house and may have been disturbed too early by your heating!

If you find a hibernating butterfly, you can gently remove it and put it somewhere that is unheated and sheltered from the elements, such a garden shed. Remember though that it will need to be a place from which the butterfly can escape in the spring, when it wakes up from its long sleep.

Other indoor wildlife
Wildlife Extra has a long list of 'indoor wildlife', but it isn't all hibernating. However this Herald Moth was seen at the same time as the Small tortoiseshell butterfly above, December 2010 when it was -5 outside.

Herald moth in the Wildlife Extra office 


Read the comments about this article and leave your own comment

Little Tortoiseshell butterfly

We have had said butterfly in our on suit shower room for several weeks but today this butterfly woke and then settled by the window in the bedroom, so googled what to do and found this web site, thank you! So butterfly is now in the dorma bedroom on suit as it is quit cool up there... But the Butterfly is sort of on its feet! Not hanging on the ceiling or wall as it was, is this OK or is it detrimental? Please let me know ASAP. Thank you.

Not sure who replies to notices! As I cannot find any answers to questions asked! Regarding this Butterfly!
Thanking in anticipation though!!

Posted by: Karol | 12 Jan 2014 01:33:43

Richard W. Symonds

"Joad and the Butterfly":

1 JANUARY 1937, Page 15

By C. E. M. JOAD

"WHAT is it that makes the wheels of evolution go round ? There are, broadly speaking, two answers and only two. The first is the so-called mechanistic answer. Variations in species occur by chance ; some of these are adapted to their environment, and confer an advantage, therefore, over competitors in the struggle for existence. Others are disadvantageous. Creatures varying in the first direction survive and prosper. The variation in virtue of which they survive and prosper is handed on to their descendants, and becomes more marked from generation to generation, until ultimately a new species is established. Thus the characteristics and habits of living creatures, as we see them today, are the result of chance variations which have survived and become stamped into the life history of the species because they happen to have been adapted to their environment.

"The process of evolution is thus conceived after the model of the workings of a gigantic clock. Somebody, at some time or other, wound the clock up— nobody, after all, has been able to tell how the affair started—and thereafter, given the variations, it proceeds to function indefinitely through the automatic interaction of its parts. And the process is without design, plan or purpose. It just happens. Human life is part of it, and when the conditions to which the variation which is the human species is adapted no longer obtain, humanity will vanish.

"To this, the classical conception of evolution which is still, I imagine, the working creed of the average biologist, there were from the first a number of objections. To begin with, it totally failed to account for the occurrence of the raw material of evolution, the variations. Once they appeared, everything went merrily enough. But how, if you disown the conception of purpose and plan, are you to account for their appearance at all ? To say that they appear by chance is simply to say that you do not know how they appear. A machine, after all, does not suddenly exfoliate a " varying crank," or a new nut.

"Secondly, it may be asked why evolution so conceived did not stop. So far as physical adaptation is concerned, and it is only of physical adaptation that on this hypothesis we are entitled to speak, it was achieved millions of years ago by creatures so much better "adapted" than ourselves, that it seems impossible to understand why they should ever have been superseded.

"Our complacency rarely permits us to realise how ridiculously equipped for the purposes of physical existence is the species "man" and, in particular, that variety of the species known as "civilised man". He cannot keep himself warm without covering himself with the skins of other animals ; he is the prey of innumerable diseases; his body is unnecessarily complicated; and his young are completely helpless over an abnormally long period.
So then, if evolution proceeds by the throwing up of variations which happen to be adapted to their environment, how do you account for the persistence of the so ridiculously adapted variation, man ?

"The third objection, to my mind the most striking, is the sheer incredibility of the chance variation hypothesis. There are things that happen in nature which seem positively to demand the notion of a guiding and directive purpose, even if it be only unconscious purpose, a fact which brings me to the alternative explanation. This, broadly, is that the process which we know as evolution is the expression of the activity of a force of life which creates living organisms and then uses them as the instruments of its purpose. Now it is only on this supposition, say the supporters of Vitalism, that some of the more extraordinary arrangements of nature can be understood.

"On any other they are frankly incredible. How incredible the reader of Mr. Grant Watson's recently published book, 'Enigmas of Natural History', will realise. In this book Mr. Grant Watson has collected and described a number of natural happenings which seem peculiarly unamenable to explanation on the " chance variation " hypothesis. I content myself with citing one of them. Consider the history of the Large Blue butterfly.

"The caterpillar from which it originates begins its life feeding on flower heads. After casting its skin for the third time, it drops from its flower and begins to walk. Presently it meets an ant. The ant strokes the caterpillar with its antennae with the result that the caterpillar exudes sweet honey-dew from a pore—it has only one—in its tenth segment. Other ants also milk and more dew is exuded. Presently, the caterpillar assumes an extraordinary attitude, swelling up its " thoracic segments." The ant - it is always the first ant - takes this attitude as a signal, gets astride the caterpillar, and carries it off into its nest underground. Once inside the nest, the caterpillar proceeds to feed on the white ant grubs, paying for its meals by continuing to exude sweet honey-dew from its pore, whenever it is caressed by the ants. During the winter months it hibernates, wakes up in the spring, begins again to feed on the white grubs, pupates, emerges from its chrysalis, crawls slowly through the windings of the ants' nest unmolested by the ants which, hostile to other butterflies, allow the devourer of their children a free passage, and wins at last to the light.

"Now what account is the interpreter of evolution as the result of chance variations to give of these remarkable occurrences ? They are, in effect, a sequence of adaptations, each of which is a phase in the evolution of the butterfly from the caterpillar. On the ordinary classical theory, these adaptations must have originated by chance. It was by chance that the caterpillar left the flower, met the ant, evolved the pore which the ant learnt by chance to milk for its honey-dew, assumed the attitude which provoked the ant to carry it off, was deposited by the ant on a spot already supplied with the right kind of food, and in due time made its way as a butterfly outwards to the light, escaping, again by chance, the hostility which the ants apparently feel to other butterflies. We must further suppose that when in course of time a particular caterpillar evolved by chance the set of variations of which this series of complicated activities consists, or upon which it depends, the ability to perform them was handed on by the caterpillar to its descendants, and that, having been performed with gradually increasing efficiency generation after generation, they gradually became stamped into the life history of the species. Meanwhile, all the caterpillars of the Large Blue which failed to vary in this very complicated way were eliminated.

"The hypothesis is, of course, possible ; possible, but exceedingly improbable. Nor is the example an isolated one. Mr. Grant Watson tells us of creatures which are little more than masses of linked cells which bore holes in the shells of crabs, inserting themselves into their bodies and living thenceforward coiled up in their intestines ; of wasps which apparently know in advance the sex of their children, taking care to place the eggs which will be female wasps in cells well stocked with food, but leaving the cells of the smaller males less well provisioned.

"Foresight, intelligence, purpose--these are the words which inevitably spring to the mind as one reads of these performances. No foresight, no intelligence, no purpose, the classical theory insists ; but only the blind workings of a machine whose parts have assembled themselves by chance, but which are precisely such as they would have been, if they had been guided by foresight, planned by intelligence, and informed by purpose.

"What is the objection to the alternative hypothesis that some dynamic principle of life, expressing itself in insects and animals in the form of instincts, thereafter directs their activities, using them as instruments for the fulfilment of some purpose not their own ? Broadly, that the existence of such a principle is a mystery, that the mode of its interaction with the matter of which the creatures' bodies are composed would be a mystery, that the assumption of its purposive activity would lie a further mystery; and that science does not like mysteries. Agreed. But who or what is modern science that it should jib at mysteries ? It complains that it does not know what a vital force is, that it has never met it. I agree that it has not. But does it know what a material force is ? It does not. It professes itself unable to countenance interaction between an immaterial principle and matter. But does it know how one piece of matter interacts with another ? Or does it understand the action of physical force from a distance ? It does not. It does not hold with purpose and final causes. But does it then understand origins and mechanical causes*? It does not, for it cannot account for the beginning of its machine; it cannot explain what it means by causation, and it has yet to answer Hume. Is it not, then, a little cavalier to reject out of hand merely because it is mysterious this conception of a vital activity infusing itself into matter, creating living organisms as a result, moulding their bodies and directing their behaviour in such a way as to further the process of their evolution and its purpose ?"

Happy New Year!

Richard of Ifield
Gatwick City of Ideas

Posted by: Richard W. Symonds | 26 Dec 2013 09:37:46

Richard W. Symonds

You're not going to believe this, but it's 'hand-on-heart' true:

Last night, amazingly, a beautiful Tortoise-Shell Butterfly was flying
about in the bedroom: ... B540%3B300

Quite how it came in I have no idea - all windows have been closed. Not
wishing to be disturbed during the night, I gently clasped said little
chappie in my two hands, and then attempted to open the window to let
it out. TSB would have none of it. It was a lousy night for goodness
sake, he seemed to say, and wriggled free, promptly flying into a
corner of the carpet by the warm radiator.

I took that as a message TSB was determined to stay the night, and
anyway I thought it unlikely he would disturb me with the light off.

This morning, still there. So TSB was transported into the living room,
taking pride of place on top of a little bonsai tree.

He has spent Christmas Day with us - and a bonny companion he has been

  • and subject of much discussion.

Earlier this evening, TSB disappeared just as mysteriously as he
appeared. No windows have been opened. TSB is nowhere to be seen.

I gave up hunting for our friendly Christmas Day guest, and sat down.
Then I received this email from a friend, headed "Joad and the Butterfly":

Posted by: Richard W. Symonds | 26 Dec 2013 09:29:21

Hibernating tortoiseshells

Just rescued one of these that had obviously woken up as I've had heating on. Chilled him in the fridge for a bit then put him safe in a box in the coldest part of my house til I can relocate him into a garage or shed. I had found another one under my desk but it seems happy and asleep so will leave it be unless I see any movement. I'm sure I will find more as its a really old house with lots of nooks for them to hide and just glad I found this site as I was panicking about what to do with the little fella! Especially as their numbers are declining!

Posted by: Bree | 13 Dec 2013 22:04:24

Chilling Tortoiseshells

Having read this article I now have a box of 8 tortoiseshell butterflies chilling in my fridge. They were found in my spare room in the tab tops of my curtains!! They will soon be relocated to my shed till spring :)

Posted by: sarah trickett | 05 Dec 2013 13:29:19

Active Red Admiral in flat - Kempsey, (Worcestershire - again !)

We have had a Red Admiral in our flat for about a week now - it is very active around one particular floor based paper light - we have put some lettuce with water droplets and a piece of cucumber on a plate and ten minutes ago it landed on the lettuce - not sure if it absorbed anything - not sure if by doing this we are actually interfering with its natural cycle - may try the shoebox/fridge/transport to cooler place experiment - we do not have outhouses/shed etc so wondering where best to place it - possibly not directly on the ground as it may be too cold ? Any ideas ?

Posted by: Lisa Griffiths | 25 Nov 2013 21:08:41

Tortoishell Butterflies have been hibernating every year for five years

Five years ago we had two butterflies hibernating in our dining room cornicing and each year this increases. This winter I have seven hibernating three in the dining room and four in the bedroom. The dining room has no windows so is quite dark. Today has got a bit warmer with lots of sun and the four in the Bedroom have woken up and have become active. I tried moving the to the dining room with the others but they kept going back to the window. eventually I let them out as it was quite sunny. then I found your website and wished I had put them in a box! I don't lift them but offer them a finger which they climb onto. Next year I should know what to do. Hope the Dining Room inhabitants are happy.

Posted by: Sylvia Jardine | 21 Nov 2013 15:30:36

Think the heating and/or sun koke it up but its still freezing outide what can I do ?

Posted by: cath | 18 Mar 2013 14:06:18

Hibernating Tortoiseshells

I usually have two or three each winter (Worcestershire) Thanks for the advice. I will try and save them.

Posted by: Roger Wildin | 20 Jan 2013 16:15:58

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