Perceptions of, and attitudes toward, wildlife are influenced by exposure to, and direct experiences with, nature. Butterflies are a conspicuous and ubiquitous component of urban nature across megacities that are highly urbanized with little opportunity for human–nature interactions. We evaluated public familiarity with, perceptions of and attitudes toward butterflies across nine megacities in East and Southeast Asia through face-to-face interviews with 1774 urban park users. A total of 79% of respondents had seen butterflies in their cities mostly in urban parks, indicating widespread familiarity with butterflies. Those who had seen butterflies also had higher perceptions of butterflies, whereas greater than 50% of respondents had positive attitudes toward butterflies. Frequent visits to natural places in urban neighbourhoods was associated with (i) sightings of caterpillars, indicating increased familiarity with urban wildlife, and (ii) increased connectedness to nature. We found two significant positive relationships: (i) between connectedness to nature and attitudes toward butterflies and (ii) between connectedness to nature and perceptions of butterflies, firmly linking parks users’ thoughts and feelings about butterflies with their view of nature. This suggests that butterflies in urban parks can play a key role in building connectedness to nature and consequently pro-environmental behaviours and support for wildlife conservation among urban residents.