Butterfly Tattoo Meaning

It is an essentially universal truth that butterflies are seen around the world as icons of nature’s beauty, and they have been highly sought after as tattoo subjects for nearly as long as the art form has been around. The meaning of butterfly tattoos extends far beyond just the concept of beauty, though; they can represent everything from faith, to transformation, to freedom, and more! Butterflies are versatile enough to stand on their own or make an attractive addition to nearly any design.

what does a butterfly tattoo mean

Though traditionally considered a feminine symbol, butterflies have been fluttering their way onto men and women alike; Harry Styles’ from hyper-popular band One Direction currently rocks a huge black-and-gray butterfly tattoo across his stomach (many have speculated Harry Styles’ butterfly tattoo to be a personal symbol of transformation for the young pop star). Hip-hop artist The Game has also displayed a butterfly facial tattoo in the past. However, the Game’s butterfly tattoo is now covered by an LA symbol, which the rapper claims is because of the poor artistry of the original tattoo.

butterfly tattoo meaning

butterfly tattoo by @duartelucastattoo

Whether you’re inspired by these celebs or have been planning your own butterfly ink for a while, we’ve got you covered on all the different possibilities of what butterfly tattoos mean.

What Does A Butterfly Symbolize?

The butterfly is so much more than just a pretty face… relatively speaking, of course. Butterflies are one of the more symbolically-rich creatures in the animal kingdom, and have been revered by cultures throughout the world for hundreds of years. Here are just a few of the more popular meanings for butterfly tattoos:

Monarch Butterfly Tattoo Meaning

monarch butterfly tattoo meaning

monarch butterfly tattoo by @567Ryan

Just like their namesake implies, Monarch butterflies are often symbols of royalty. In Mexico, they are considered to be souls returning on the Day of the Dead. Monarch butterflies are known for their impressive migration patterns in the U.S., which makes them an excellent symbol for travel, or guidance in life.

Celtic Butterfly Tattoo Meaning

celtic butterfly tattoo

celtic butterfly tattoo by @nigex3

Butterflies are deeply rooted in Celtic culture. In Irish folklore, it is said that butterflies are related to the souls of humans (white butterflies in particular are considered be the souls of children). The butterfly is also associated with dealan-dhe, or the “needfire” (a magical fire that can be conjured in times of desperation). As a tattoo, Celtic butterflies are symbols of the afterlife/ the soul (which makes them great memorial designs), transformation, and creation. Stylistically, the appearance of the Celtic butterfly looks like it has been wrought out of iron. 

Tribal Butterfly Tattoo Meaning

tribal butterfly tattoo meaning

tribal butterfly tattoo by @ninasilavuori

Different tribal styles usually have specific meanings to the tribe with which they are associated, but tribal style butterflies are very commonly seen as a tattoo choice. Tribal butterfly tattoos are generally done in solid black graphic lines, and be set up as an individual piece or worked into a larger design.

Japanese Butterfly Tattoo Meaning

japanese butterfly tattoo

japanese butterfly on sakura flower tattoo by @horikenbrasil

In Japanese culture, butterflies are often related to marriage; specifically, they represent the joy of a newly married bride as she finds contentment in her life with her husband. This reference makes Japanese butterfly tattoos a wonderful way to commemorate an anniversary or wedding.

Butterfly Face Tattoo Meaning

Adding butterfly wings to a portrait tattoo is an awesome way to add extra detail and color. This works well for generic portraits (i.e. the artist creates a face for you), and also is a good idea for memorial tattoos, since butterflies are already strongly tied to the concept of souls and the afterlife.

Butterfly Wings Tattoo Meaning

A butterfly wings tattoo (positioned on the shoulder blades, like angel wings) is often indicative of transformation or metamorphosis, just like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. This is a great idea to celebrate making a big life change, marking a long-due achievement, or triumphing over a huge obstacle.

Butterfly with Rose Tattoo Meaning

butterflies with rose tattoo

butterflies with rose tattoo by @paulboxalltattoo

The Greek word for butterfly is “psyche,” and also happens to be the name of the mythological lover/wife of the god Eros; because of this (and also because of their natural beauty), butterflies are often associated with love. The addition of a rose in a butterfly design really brings out the love theme and can be great to commemorate a relationship or anniversary

Skull and Butterfly Tattoo Meaning

skull with butterfly wings tattoo

skull with butterfly wings tattoo by @maartenemily

Adding a skull to a butterfly design further emphasizes the theme of mortality and passing on. Because of this, butterfly-and-skull tattoos can be used as a memorial designs, or simply to represent the ties between life and death.

Butterfly with Eyes Tattoo Meaning

It is often said that eyes are the windows to the soul, and since butterflies are considered to be symbols of human souls in so many cultures, this tattoo melds together perfectly. A butterfly-with-eyes tattoo can often mean introspection, or looking within to gain a better understanding of one’s self and goals in life.

Butterfly and Stars Tattoo Meaning

Stars are often taken to represent freedom, a theme that is doubly strong when coupled with the image of the butterfly. There is also a certain duality in butterfly-and-star tattoos; butterflies are icons of a wild spirit, whereas stars have been traditionally used in navigation and finding one’s path. These opposing ideas can be united to represent balance, as well as spiritual guidance or guidance through life.

Multiple Butterflies Tattoo Meaning

butterflies tattoo meaning

butterflies by @famousink420

Getting two or three or more butterflies tattooed can have a few different meanings.  Sometimes people use them as memorial tattoos; for example, a pair of butterflies can be used to represent parents or grandparents who have passed away. Multiple butterflies can also be used to celebrate life, and can be a beautiful tribute to your children.

Metamorphosis; Butterfly Coming Out of the Cocoon Tattoo Meaning

This tattoo confidently represents transformation. Caterpillars completely break themselves down in order to rebuild their bodies into the beautiful butterflies we love so much. With that mind, this tattoo design can represent emerging on the other side of extreme hardship or difficulty. A butterfly-from-cocoon tattoo can also celebrate a change in philosophy or faith.

Meaning of Butterfly Colors

The color of the butterfly you use in your design can often be just as important to your tattoo’s meaning as the other elements. Here’s a quick rundown of what various colors mean and how you can incorporate them into a cohesive tattoo design:

Blue Butterfly Tattoo Meaning

blue butterfly tattoo meaning

blue butterfly tattoo by @marciotattoorj

In many cultures, seeing a blue butterfly is a sign of good luck. Blue butterflies inspire thoughts of happiness and rebirth or renewal. Blue butterflies are traditionally the more feminine out of all of the butterfly colors, though their image has been used by both men and women.

Black Butterfly Tattoo Meaning

Unsurprisingly, the black butterfly is often associated with bad luck or death. Some cultures have considered black butterflies or moths to be signs of a witch (or even a witch who has transformed herself). In Aztec culture, the black butterfly was associated with the goddess Itzpapalotl, who was the warrior goddess of fire and infant mortality, and was said to devour people during an eclipse (she also sliced up any men who tried to sleep with her with flint knives). With that association in mind, you can use black butterflies to design a pretty kickass feminist piece.

White Butterfly Tattoo Meaning

white butterfly tattoo

white butterfly tattoo by @hatefeuled_tattoos

The color white is used frequently to represent purity, which complements the wild and free spirit of butterflies. White butterflies are also used in Christian symbolism to represent the concept of salvation through the three stages of a butterfly’s life: the caterpillar would represent life before Jesus, the cocoon would be the tomb or death, and the butterfly is resurrection or salvation/ rebirth.

Orange Butterfly Tattoo Meaning

Orange butterflies can represent passion and strength. Like the Monarch butterfly, an orange butterfly can symbolize spiritual guidance, or seeking direction in life.

Purple Butterfly Tattoo Meaning

purple butterfly tattoo meaning

butterfly tattoo by @tattoosbyjustinconti_

The purple butterfly is a commonly used symbol of Chronic/Invisible Illness Awareness, especially for fibromyalgia. Purple butterflies have also recently been put into use by hospitals to indicate when a baby has survived the death of one or more siblings in a multiple birth. That being said, purple butterflies are a strong symbol for survival and strength.

Pink Butterfly Tattoo Meaning

Pink butterflies often symbolize tenderness and love. They are often seen as mother-daughter tattoos, or sister tattoos. Like the blue butterfly, pink butterflies are usually representative of femininity.

Red Butterfly Tattoo Meaning

red butterfly tattoo

red butterfly tattoo by @mstraditionaltattoo

Like orange butterflies, red butterflies can indicate passion (usually romantic passion), but can also represent anger or aggression depending on the context of the design. There are some Native American tribes that believe that a red butterfly signifies a strong spirit, and in Scotland red butterflies once had ties to the occult, just like the black butterfly.

Yellow Butterfly Tattoo Meaning

Yellow butterflies represent happiness more strongly than any of the other colors. In Scotland and Ireland, it was often thought that seeing a yellow butterfly near a grave meant the person’s soul was at rest.

Butterfly Tattoo Placement

Normally, the placement of a tattoo doesn’t bear too much significance on what the tattoo actually means. But in the case of these butterflies, there are a few areas on the body that actually do lend some extra special significance to the designs.

Butterfly on Wrist Tattoo Meaning

In the past decade or so a movement has started where people struggling with severe depression and self-harm get a butterfly tattooed on their wrist (or wherever else they are tempted to hurt themselves), as a reminder that they have value and to help them overcome the urge to self-harm. This is called the Butterfly Project.

Butterfly Tattoo on Lower Back Meaning

This placement has gotten a bad rap over the 90s and early 2000s as a “tramp stamp,” especially if the butterfly was tribal. However, both men and women have been proudly rocking lower back tattoos as a way to reclaim the area and do away with the negative connotations. And if you believe in chakras, the lower back is very close to the chakra related to fertility, which strengthens the symbolism of rebirth for butterflies.

Meaning of Butterfly Tattoo on Chest

Like Harry Styles’ now-famous butterfly ink, having a butterfly tattooed over your heart is often a metaphor for changing or transforming your heart. This could be anything as simple as growing older and wiser, or could deal with a more complex situation, like getting over a broken heart or triumphing over emotional and mental hardships.

Butterfly Tattoo on Neck Meaning

It is very common to see butterfly tattoos on the back of the neck, though it is markedly less common on other areas of the neck or throat. A lot of women choose this placement because it is easily hidden with long hair, but can still be easily shown off as well.

cool butterfly tattoo

butterfly tattoo by @567Ryan

Butterflies are clearly much more than simply a pretty, feminine design; they are rich in symbolism and can make aesthetically pleasing and gorgeous designs that work well on both men and women alike.  Here’s a quick list of all of the different meanings for butterfly tattoos in case you need a refresher:

Butterfly Tattoos Meaning Strength

  • Orange butterfly
  • Red butterfly
  • Purple Butterfly

Butterfly Tattoo Meaning New Beginning or Renewal

  • Butterfly coming out of cocoon
  • Butterfly wings
  • Blue butterfly
  • White butterfly
  • Butterfly placed on lower back
  • Butterfly on chest

Other Butterfly Meanings:

  • Life (pretty much any butterfly tattoo can be related to this, which the exception of maybe the black butterfly)
  • Death/ the occult (black and red butterflies, butterfly-and-skull tattoos, Celtic butterflies)
  • Resisting depression/ self-harm (i.e. the Butterfly Project)
  • Chronic Illness/ Invisible Illness Awareness (purple butterfly)
  • Survival (purple butterfly)
  • Metamorphosis/ transformation
  • Happiness (yellow butterfly)
  • Wedding/ marriage (Japanese style butterfly)
  • Love (red/ pink butterflies, butterfly-and-rose tattoo)
  • Guidance (butterfly-and-stars, monarch butterfly, orange butterfly)
  • Memorial tattoos


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