Beautiful, vibrant and dainty, butterflies are a sight to see in any lucky garden. It’s no surprise that many men and women are choosing to have these fascinating creatures tattooed on their arms.
But like most tattoos, there should be meaning to every butterfly tattoo design. So what’s the meaning of a butterfly tattoo?
Here’s what you need to know.
Butterfly Tattoo: An Overview
Butterflies are insects most popular for its brightly-colored wings and the way it flutters to fly in low altitudes. Butterflies existed as early as 56 million years ago and are under the same order as moths.
Butterflies undergo a four-stage life cycle. First, an adult butterfly lays its eggs on a plant. The eggs hatch and the larvae will then feed on the plant’s leaves. These will then grow into caterpillars that will continue to eat until it is developed enough to pupate inside a chrysalis. It will stay inside the chrysalis to undergo metamorphosis and develop into a butterfly. When it’s ready, it will leave the chrysalis and fly away.
Based on its metamorphosis, a butterfly tattoo can mean you have finished developing yourself and have come into your own self. If you’ve finally achieved the body you want, if you’ve overcome an addiction or bad habit, or you’re deciding to turn over a new leaf and leave behind your old self, a butterfly is a good symbol to commemorate this change in you.
Butterflies have developed a range of wing colors as a natural form of camouflage, mimicry, or aposematism (nature’s way of telling predators to back off) to survive in the wilderness. This is because butterflies are prey to a number of animals like birds, snakes, frogs, rodents, monkeys, bigger carnivorous insects and other animals that feed on smaller insects.
You can consider butterflies as the underdog of the food chain, yet they are enduring and have survived despite its vulnerability to bigger players in the environment.
Butterflies feed mostly on pollen in flowers. But they also eat tree sap, rotting fruit, and decaying flesh and minerals. Although they do not carry as much pollen as bees, interestingly, butterflies have a tendency for flower constancy. This means they visit the same flower for pollen, regardless of the better, more rewarding flowers around it – a good symbol for constancy and loyalty in butterflies.
Butterfly Tattoo and Symbolism in Ancient Cultures
Because there is evidence that butterflies existed millions of years ago, it’s no surprise that ancient civilizations, like the Chinese and Egyptians, have ancient art pieces depicting butterflies in nature.
In the ancient city of Teotihuacan, colorful butterflies were carved and painted into the walls of temples, buildings, jewelry and incense burners. Butterflies were believed to be the reincarnated souls of fallen warriors and were associated with fire and warfare. Butterflies were also associated with jaguars, who were known for their ferocity.
A butterfly could mean a good or bad thing in Japanese folklore, depending on how many you see. It was believed that a butterfly was the personification of one’s soul, whether they were living or dead. One Japanese superstition said that if a butterfly entered your guest room, it means the person you love most will visit. But if you see a large number of butterflies, it’s believed it is a bad omen and serves as a warning that something unfortunate or fatal is coming your way.
Today, butterflies have a more positive symbolism in Japanese culture. Its metamorphosis carries the meaning of transformation and becoming a new person. A butterfly tattoo design would also mean good luck, health and prosperity.
Greek and Roman Superstition
The Romans also believed that butterflies were associated with the soul. In fact, the ancient Greeks’ word for the insect was psȳchē, which also meant “soul” or “mind.” Sculptures of the dead often depicted a butterfly exiting the mouth of the deceased due to the belief that a person’s soul exits through their mouth.
Other Beliefs About Butterflies
- In many cultures, butterflies symbolize rebirth and transformation.
- In the Philippines, a black butterfly or moth that enters the home symbolizes death, as the superstition that someone in the family has died or is going to die soon.
- In Devonshire, an old practice was that the whole county would rush to find the first butterfly in the area at the start of the new year. Those who killed the first butterfly would be spared from bad luck for the rest of the year.
The Butterfly Effect
Butterfly tattoo designs can also be a reference to what’s known as the Butterfly Effect. It’s a concept in chaos theory which states that the smallest choices can have big consequences down the road. It uses the example of how a butterfly flapping its wings in the air can later on, if the circumstances are right, turn into a tornado.
A butterfly tattoo may symbolize the butterfly effect. It can remind you that the smallest actions can have big consequences, so take care of the decisions you make every day. It’s a reminder to exercise caution and to own your decisions because you’ll have to live with the effects of your choices later in life.
Monarch Butterfly Tattoos
Out of all the different butterfly tattoo designs, the monarch butterfly is said to be one of the more popular ones. A monarch is identified for its specific orange and black wings, so if you want this type of butterfly tattoo design, it will have to be colored.
A monarch butterfly is a traveler by nature. They’re known to migrate every year, and they never stick around for too long. It’s the perfect symbol for those who love to travel or never stay in the same place for too long.
True to its name, monarchs are also a symbol of royalty. It’s unlikely anyone in the conservative royal family will show off a tattoo to represent their status, but if you want a tattoo that says subtle sophistication, the monarch butterfly is a good option.
Mexican Monarch Symbolism
Mexican culture celebrates Dia de los Muertos, a three-day celebration that is the equivalent of Christianity’s three days of All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints Day and All Souls Day (or as most of us like to call it – Halloween).
According to ancient Mexican beliefs, the human soul does not die. Instead, the soul lives on in Mictlan until they can return to the land of the living during Dia de los Muertos to visit their surviving loved ones.
In Central Mexico, monarch butterflies hold a special symbolism due to the patterns of these butterflies in the area. As far as the pre-Hispanic period, there were records of monarch butterflies flying above the area the same time every year. When Catholic traditions mingled with the indigenous cultures and Dia de los Muertos became a yearly celebration, it coincided with the monarch butterflies entering.
Thus, in Mexico, monarch butterflies became the symbol of the departed souls returning to the land of the living in the form of butterflies. They’re believed to be the departed ancestors arriving for their annual visit.
Semicolon Butterfly Tattoo
Lately, semicolon butterfly tattoos have become more popular. This is in relation to Project Semicolon, which started in 2013. It is a non-profit movement dedicated to raising awareness of suicide, addiction, mental health and mental illnesses and self-harm.
In this movement, people would draw or tattoo semicolons onto themselves, symbolizing how they could have chosen to commit suicide, but chose not to. This is similar to the way semicolons work in writing: authors who use semicolons could have chosen to finish their sentence, but didn’t.
Semicolon butterfly tattoos are an evolution of the Project Semicolon movement to showcase semicolons in a more creative way. These butterfly tattoos come in two typical forms. The first is a front view of the butterfly showing both its wings, but instead of a butterfly’s body, it’s a semicolon. The other form is a butterfly in its sideview.
Combining the meaning of butterfly tattoos and the meaning of semicolons, a semicolon butterfly tattoo tells a story of overcoming your grief. With a semicolon, you choose to press forward and see what life has to offer despite the trouble you’ve gone through. And the butterfly symbolizes your transformation after the storm, highlighting how your metamorphosis has turned you into something better, despite the scars and hard times you’ve encountered along the way.
It’s a beautiful message in one tattoo, one that encourages people to move forward. If you’re thinking of getting a semicolon butterfly tattoo, it’s a great way to commemorate the trials you’ve undergone and how far along you’ve come when you look at the tattoo years later and realize how much you’ve endured.