Definition of butterfly in US English:


nounPlural butterflies

  • 1A nectar-feeding insect with two pairs of large, typically brightly colored wings that are covered with microscopic scales. Butterflies are distinguished from moths by having clubbed or dilated antennae, holding their wings erect when at rest, and being active by day.

    Superfamilies Papilionoidea and Hesperioidea, order Lepidoptera: several families. Formerly placed in a grouping known as the Rhopalocera

    • ‘The toxins derived from this variety are toxic only to the larvae of butterflies and moths.’
    • ‘We find many examples of this in insects, such as butterflies and Orthopterans.’
    • ‘The real kicker for this cover is its silvery, holographic pattern of a butterfly's wing as a background to the larger white silhouette.’
    • ‘As well as their important compost-creating role, nettles also provide excellent food for some butterflies and moths and are much-loved by ladybirds.’
    • ‘In the windows passers-by will see a plethora of wildlife, including butterflies, insects and moths, which have lived in the building at one point in its history.’
    • ‘Where have all the butterflies, moths and bees gone?’
    • ‘In his museum at Tring, which is just north-west of London, he had two and a quarter million butterflies and moths alone.’
    • ‘There were colourful butterflies, moths, monkeys and lizards and for visitors all this wonderful wildlife could be seem from walkways strung high in the air from the upper branches.’
    • ‘She brought with her a collection of bees, butterflies, flies, moths, and others.’
    • ‘They are absurd, attractive, brightly coloured butterflies about to be pinned down by the coming conflict in Europe.’
    • ‘Large numbers of butterflies and moths are flying in most fields and another generation of many pests is likely.’
    • ‘This is a bacteria that is only harmful to Lepidoptera - butterflies and moths.’
    • ‘The Peaks are also a stronghold for the striking green hairstreak butterfly and the emperor moth, which feeds on heather.’
    • ‘These are visited by a diverse array of animals, including bees, hawk moths, beetles, butterflies, long-tongued flies, hummingbirds and bats.’
    • ‘Bombyx shares this problem with other moths and butterflies (Lepidoptera).’
    • ‘Secondary pollinators were diurnal hawk moths and butterflies.’
    • ‘Tiny scales cover the adult butterfly's wings that aid them during these critical searches.’
    • ‘Though some plants are pollinated by bats, birds, butterflies, moths, and wasps, most of the work is done by bees.’
    • ‘For example, the differences between forewings and hindwings of insects with two pairs of wings, such as butterflies, are probably regulated by the Ubx gene.’
    • ‘There's the butterfly house, a riot of colourful plants and animals with more than 60 species of butterflies and moths.’
    1. 1.1as modifier Having a two-lobed shape resembling the spread wings of a butterfly.
      ‘a butterfly clip’
      • ‘I twisted back half my hair with 3 butterfly clips and left the rest long and curly.’
      • ‘Examples for this progress are the discovery of the genetic basis for the evolution of butterfly wing patterns and for the evolution of arthropod body regions.’
      • ‘She shuddered slightly and I dug through the basket on the back of the toilet, pulling out a butterfly clip and pulling back her bangs with it before staring to braid the rest.’
      • ‘Just then Delilah skipped up, her blonde hair pulled back into sparkly butterfly clips.’
      • ‘Back on the ground, we sat up straight and drew our feet together into a butterfly.’
      • ‘This recipe will make a Victoria sandwich or alternatively will make approximately 18 butterfly cakes.’
      • ‘The box stated that it made 16 butterfly cakes, which are basically plain fairy cakes, with the top sliced off, filled with icing and then the top of the cake is halved and put back on to look like wings.’
      • ‘My brother's blue wide apart butterfly wing eyes, a lazy eye made them look wider, and curly eyelashes.’
      • ‘The butterfly hair clip, however, lay with wings down on her dresser, as if mocking her resolve.’
      • ‘When you stand and look down at the seed bed you see butterfly shapes strung along a black pipe, for the water has gently washed the ground into four linked circles at each irrigation point.’
      • ‘All the bauhinias have two-lobed butterfly leaves.’
      • ‘Is it because the shop was out of butterfly clips?’
      • ‘Ji Ah's eyelids fluttered like butterfly wings, and were laced with delicate blue veins, and defined by thick lashes.’
      • ‘She had jazzed up her short curls with butterfly clips.’
      • ‘Bizcochito, an anise-flavored sugar cookie molded by hand into a butterfly shape.’
      • ‘To make butterfly, moth, or dragonfly wings, cut vellum into symmetrical curves.’
      • ‘Her long bangs stayed in place, pulled back by dark purple butterfly clips.’
      • ‘Of course, the tiny, sparkly magenta butterfly clips in the man's hair still bothered Kyle a bit.’
      • ‘Tina Hyland was wearing butterfly clips in her hair.’
      • ‘Her long, straight blond hair was piled messily on top of her head and twinkled with sparkly butterfly clips and hairpins.’
    2. 1.2 A showy or frivolous person.
      ‘a social butterfly’
      • ‘Her entries range from those of a social butterfly, flitting from one society event to another, to horrific accounts of the bombing of Berlin and Vienna.’
      • ‘And the page was not the preferred location for social butterflies.’
      • ‘After years of hiding away, will they suddenly become social butterflies, ready to take on the world?’
      • ‘And while I'm the first to admit that I'm not a social butterfly or anything, I'm not really hated either.’
      • ‘Social butterflies were in their element during Seniors Week 2002, which came to a close on the weekend.’
      • ‘Beth has never exactly been the social butterfly.’
      • ‘But Max, who is actually much more of a social butterfly than I am, insisted.’
      • ‘It started off like any other school year; Liz being a social butterfly, and me being totally silent around her other friends.’
      • ‘As I've already said, I'm not exactly a social butterfly.’
      • ‘I have decided that I'm not cut out to be a social butterfly.’
      • ‘Friday still will be family night, although our daughter, Adrienne, is 14 and has become a social butterfly.’
      • ‘I not a social butterfly per se, but I like to go out.’
      • ‘We're not social butterflies so we don't do all that much of that.’
      • ‘Even though I was a social butterfly for the most part, any time I didn't have anything to do, I would drink.’
      • ‘I always had friends, but I was never a social butterfly.’
      • ‘Are you kind of a social butterfly, do you think?’
      • ‘In result, she's the social butterfly of our little triangle.’
      • ‘She seemed a social butterfly to him, and in one morning, she had already been invited to five places, and she assured all five people she'd call them and discuss details.’
      • ‘The social butterfly was also a very hard worker.’
      • ‘If you are a quiet mouse you can never become a social butterfly.’
    3. 1.3butterfliesinformal A fluttering and nauseous sensation felt in the stomach when one is nervous.
      • ‘My heart was beating against the walls of my rib cage and there was a flutter of butterflies in my stomach.’
      • ‘He still felt a great sensation of butterflies in his stomach though, now more so than ever, as he had no idea what to expect.’
      • ‘The rest of the week flew by, and as Friday rehearsal rolled around, I was getting nervous butterflies in my stomach.’
      • ‘The way Michael was looking Jessica over made the butterflies in her stomach flutter and spin.’
      • ‘Their eyes locked and Lily felt the butterflies fluttering in her stomach.’
      • ‘Marie shook her head; trying to ward off the butterflies fluttering nervously about in her stomach.’
      • ‘No, I was thinking about how the light shined into his hair and how his nervous chuckle caused butterflies in my stomach.’
      • ‘This was to be my first real public duty as a guardsman and butterflies fluttered in my stomach.’
      • ‘Oh, how she missed those mystifying green eyes and that dashingly handsome smile that sent fluttering butterflies down her stomach.’
      • ‘His Adam's apple bobbed up and down, which sent butterflies fluttering in her stomach.’
      • ‘Lethya walked down the hall, butterflies fluttering in her stomach.’
      • ‘I exclaimed with a smile trying to hide the nervous butterflies in my stomach.’
      • ‘She felt the butterflies fluttering in her stomach and she prayed they would never go away.’
      • ‘With butterflies fluttering in their stomachs, pupils flocked to their schools to find out if all their hard work had paid off.’
      • ‘I began to feel the beginnings of butterflies fluttering in my stomach.’
      • ‘I'm not yet a good driver, nor a completely confident one but at least the idea of doing it no longer sets butterflies fluttering in my stomach.’
      • ‘My heart pounded, and the butterflies in my stomach fluttered.’
      • ‘Amanda felt the butterflies in her stomach flutter their wings as she approached the stables.’
      • ‘Nervous butterflies fluttered in her stomach every time a messenger or lower official left Orwell's tent for fear that it might be Smith.’
      • ‘His stance was relaxed, almost lazy and languid, and I felt butterflies fluttering around my stomach when he caught my gaze and held it.’
      nervousness, nerves, fit of nerves, edginess, uneasiness, anxiety, anxiousness, tension, agitation, fretfulness, restlessness, fidgeting, trembling, shaking, jumpiness
      View synonyms
  • 2A stroke in swimming in which both arms are raised out of the water and lifted forwards together.

    • ‘After you've taught the butterfly, add dolphin kick on the back to backstroke instruction.’
    • ‘Reese predicts that the bulk of the team's points will come from middle distance freestyle, butterfly, backstroke and diving.’
    • ‘If you take a forward breath in butterfly, the idea is to keep your eyes down and your head low.’
    • ‘For butterfly, your hands will continue to press the water under your body.’
    • ‘Jenny's freestyle refinements might not have happened if she had not been hungry to swim a better butterfly.’
    • ‘Her only weak stroke was the butterfly, and this stood in the way of her improving in the IM events.’
    • ‘Backstroke and butterfly are OK, but they're not as good as the other two.’
    • ‘Performing drills that focus on breathing, timing and acceleration can help a swimmer grasp the finer points of swimming butterfly.’
    • ‘This includes butterfly obviously another dangerous swimming stroke!’
    • ‘Any swimming stroke will help improve your stride, but the butterfly translates best to cross-country skiing.’
    • ‘In the open gala, Amy Clayden produced superb form to claim gold in the butterfly, backstroke and freestyle and a silver in the individual medley.’
    • ‘She is also the only woman to have won golds in three different strokes - freestyle, backstroke and butterfly.’
    • ‘When swimming the butterfly, the breathing pattern all depends on the hips.’
    • ‘Two kicks give roughly the same distance as a full butterfly stroke.’
    • ‘This exercise also plays a vital role in swimming during stroke recovery in the freestyle, butterfly and backstroke.’
    • ‘The other butterfly champs, Jedrejczak and Kammerling, finished second and third.’
    • ‘In the butterfly, Marshall ranks among the national leaders, as does Torpey.’
    • ‘She then backed up to win a bronze medal behind the USA's Thompson in the 50m butterfly in a time of 26.53.’
    • ‘He was second in freestyle, third in both backstroke and butterfly and fourth in breaststroke.’
    • ‘In butterfly, shoulder flexibility can facilitate the arm recovery and can save energy for the important underwater pull.’

verbbutterflies, butterflying, butterflied

[with object]
  • Split (a piece of meat or fish) almost in two and spread it out flat.

    ‘butterfly the shrimp using a small sharp knife’
    • ‘So I butterflied it - yielding two pieces that were about 1/2 an inch thick.’
    • ‘These shrimp stand in silent rebuke to their unfortunate cousins that are butterflied and flattened by less sensitive restaurants.’
    • ‘He carries lamb in medallions, butterflied, frenched, minced, diced, sliced and stroganoffed.’
    • ‘We decided to go with the 12-pounder and the man cut its head off, cut its tail off, shaved off the scales, butterflied it and deboned it.’
    • ‘Generally in Tasmania fresh quail is sold butterflied.’
    • ‘The red snapper we had chosen came to the table deboned and butterflied, where it was served onto our plates with a garnish of endive, radicchio, lemon wedges and capers.’
    • ‘We had some the other night as a treat, butterflied and grilled.’
    • ‘Go to your local butcher and ask for two tenderloin steaks to be butterflied to about a one centimetre thickness.’
    • ‘The only fried food I took issue with here was the shrimp, butterflied and flattened to the point where any juices they had once possessed were only a memory.’
    • ‘When ordered, the hot dogs are split lengthwise and butterflied on the grill for one last blast of heat.’


Old English, from butter + fly; perhaps from the cream or yellow color of common species, or from an old belief that the insects stole butter.