Butterflies are extremely popular in both arts and culture around the world. They are widely known for their beauty as well as their various symbolic meanings. In some countries they are considered fickle, unfaithful or inconsistent, but in most cultures butterflies are seen as symbols of positive change, freedom and metamorphosis.
Butterfly tattoos are among the most abundant tattoo design selections in modern day tattoo studios. As a long-time favorite of female body art enthusiasts, butterfly tattoos have the unique versatility to be designed for both large and small areas making them widely usable on almost any part of the body. With an unlimited number of styles and color combinations, butterfly tattoos continue to rank near the top of the all-time most popular tattoo design selections.
Variations of Butterfly Tattoos
There are quite a number of different butterfly species that can be found in nature, each with their own delicate and detailed coloring. When featured in tattoo art, their beauty may very well rival their natural forms. Most first time tattoo-goers opt for small, simple designs as their first permanent marking—particularly women. Whether on an ankle, one’s lower back or shoulder blade, butterfly tattoos are a great choice for tattoo newbie’s.
Fluttering butterflies, striking tribal butterfly designs and flower butterfly tattoos are only a few of the limitless compositions available. A butterfly perched upon a ribbon baring a special name, date or short phrase creates a very personalized, yet artistic, piece. Celtic crosses adorned with butterflies offer a strong and eye-appealing combination of beauty and heritage. Another popular combination matches butterflies with delicate fairies. The two are usually featured together as separate entities or as a morphed image—a striking fairy adorned with butterfly wings.
Butterfly tattoos can symbolize different meanings when inked on different parts of the body. When tattooed on the shoulder blade, butterfly tattoos represent a dreamer—an individual whose head is usually in the clouds. On the chest, butterfly tattoos symbolize unconditional love for all living things. When applied on the lower back, butterfly tattoos symbolize stability, self-preservation, survival, physical health, prosperity and trust. Below the belly, butterfly tattoo designs typically represent virginity.
Symbolism of Butterfly Tattoos
Butterflies have long been associated with transformation and with renewal or rebirth. They are delicate creatures that often symbolize the fragility of life and impermanence. The natural metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly symbolizes natural beauty and freedom. This magical blossoming is commonly expressed through the use of bright and colorful hues. Butterfly tattoos are also known to represent free spirits and innocence. With butterflies having long been used in the fashion industry on fabrics, accessories and garments, it is not a wonder they are also among the most popular body art selections.
Cultural Meanings of Butterfly Tattoos
Butterfly tattoos are highly sought after designs that generally capitalize on the beauty and gracefulness of butterflies. However, they are also are highly symbolic creatures to many cultures and religions around the world including:
Japanese: a single butterfly tattoo represents young womanhood, while two butterflies symbolize marital bliss.
Aztecs of ancient Mexico: the butterfly stood both for the souls of dead warriors who had fallen on the battlefield and the souls of women who had died in childbirth – the two most noble deaths of which an Aztec could conceive.
Christians: a butterfly tattoo is representative of a newly freed spirit and a symbol of resurrection.
Greeks: it is believed that a new soul is born each time a butterfly emerges from its cocoon and takes flight.
Germans: butterfly tattoos are known to represent little children who have similar natures and are also representative of the miracle of childbirth for couples who have been barren for some time.
Chinese: often use butterfly tattoos as symbols of joy and happiness, while two fluttering butterflies are symbolic of love.
Native Americans: believe that a caught butterfly, once released, would carry ones wishes to the Great Spirit in heaven, who would then realize them for the individual as a thank you for setting it free.
Russians: butterfly tattoos are often representative of women, particularly mothers and grandmothers.
Colors of Butterfly Tattoos
There are over 17,000 different species of butterflies in the world. Each species uses their distinctive coloring to: blend into their natural surroundings; to attract and find mates; or, for those with bright coloring, to trick their predators into thinking they are poisonous. Butterfly tattoos are acceptable in anyhue because of the countless color combinations found in nature. These unique colors result from the refraction of light off of a butterfly’s wing scales which creates a beautiful, multi-colored effect. Below are a few common butterfly tattoos and background information on each species of butterfly:
MONARCH BUTTERFLY TATTOOS: Red and orange in color with strong black vein patterns and white dots, the monarch is perhaps the most well-known of all North American butterflies. Since the 19th century the monarch has been found in New Zealand, and in Australia since 1871, where it is known as the wanderer. The monarch is famous for its southward migration and Northward return in summer. Monarch butterflies are poisonous and distasteful to birds and mammals.
SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY TATTOOS: All swallowtail butterflies have tails at the end of their hind wings. This type of butterfly can range in both color and pattern as there are over 500 species of swallowtail butterflies; however, the most common colors are yellow and black (i.e. Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly). Swallowtail butterflies, being large, colorful and attractive, have been the target of butterfly collectors for a long time. The largest of these, the Birdwing butterfly, are particularly sought after and are cultured in butterfly farms for the purpose of collectors.
BLUE MORPHO BUTTERFLY TATTOOS: Tattoos featuring blue morphos often beautifully mimic the metallic, shimmering shades of blue iridescence and black trim wings that are found on these butterflies in nature. They are a Neotropical species found mainly in South American rainforests. The name morpho, meaning “changed” or “modified,” is also an epithet of Aphrodite and Venus.
BIRDWING BUTTERFLY TATTOOS: Birdwing butterflies are endangered, tropical butterflies of contrasting coloring (green, yellow, white, black and, at times, blue or orange). They inhabit the rainforest and are usually seen along the forest periphery. They are strong flyers and seek sunlit spots in which to bask. Included among the birdwings are some of the largest butterflies in the world, the largest being the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing, and the second largest being the Goliath Birdwing.
Celebrities with Butterfly Tattoos
As celebrities continue to pave the way in the world of fashion, they also have a profound effect on the tattoo industry. Here is a short list of popular female personalities who have butterfly tattoos of their own:
DREW BARRYMORE / Actress: butterfly tattoo beneath naval
MARIAH CAREY / SINGER: butterfly tattoo on lower back
LITA FORD / Musician: butterfly tattoo on right buttock
WILLA FORD / Musician: butterfly tattoos on lower right side of neck and lower abdomen
DOLLY PARTON / Singer: butterfly tattoo on chest
PARIS HILTON / Model: butterfly tattoo between shoulder blades
JULIA ROBERTS / Actress: butterfly tattoo on lower back
KIMORA LEE SIMMONS / Fashion model: butterfly tattoo on top of right foot
RHONA MITRA / Maxim model: two fluttering butterflies tattooed on right lower waist
CARLA GUGINO / Actress: butterfly tattoo on right ankle
BRANDY / Singer: butterfly tattoo on left shoulder blade
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