Bright and beautiful, butterflies light up gardens and the environment with their presence. Everyone is familiar with butterflies, but there is a lot more to these tiny, colorful creatures than meets the eye.
Did You Know?
The world’s largest butterfly is the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing, which boasts a wingspan of almost 1 ft. (30 cm)!
There has always been a lot of symbolism associated with butterflies. In Japan, a butterfly is seen as the personification of a person’s soul. It is also regarded as a symbol of transformation because of its impressive process of metamorphosis. Some even relate it to after-death communication. So, you see, this beautiful creature has always had a special place in various cultures, as well as popular folklore.
Butterfly Fact Sheet
It is believed that the name ‘butterfly’ was first coined to describe the Yellow Brimstone Butterfly — a variety commonly seen across Europe. It was actually known as ‘Butter-colored Fly’ earlier, before getting its official name.
According to scientists, there are about 20,000 known butterfly species around the world.
Butterflies and moths belong to the order Lepidoptera, which is derived from the Greek words “lepidos” and “pteron” that mean scale and wing, respectively.
Butterflies have four wings, which are actually transparent. The vivid colors are due to overlapping bright scales. The wings are very delicate and can get damaged, if touched, lifted, or held by hands. The scales, too, can get rubbed off if touched.
Some butterflies lay their eggs on the underside of specific plants. Others, like the Cabbage White Butterfly, lay their eggs on cabbage leaves; the eggs and caterpillars that emerge are velvety green and blend in well with the cabbage leaves.
Many butterflies have intricate and pretty patterns on their wings. These designs are intended for camouflage purposes. Some designs deceive predators into thinking them to be some other larger creature. These patterns are also useful in courtship rituals. These insects fly in circles around one another to find a mate.
Most species are diurnal. They fly during the day and close their wings while resting.
Butterflies are found worldwide except on the continent of Antarctica. They cannot fly if their body temperature is less than 86° F. Being cold-blooded, it becomes necessary for them to get warm with the help of their flight muscles. They achieve this by basking under the sun, so that they can absorb the sunrays.
Some butterfly species, like the Painted Lady, are migratory and are known to fly thousands of miles during winters.
Butterflies tend to thrive mostly in the Tropics, where the abundant fauna provides them with food and breeding grounds.
Instead of a mouth, butterflies have a long straw-like structure called proboscis. They taste food by standing on it. This is because their taste sensors are found in their feet.
The body of an adult butterfly is divided into head, thorax, and abdomen. They have six legs.
Birdwing butterflies possess large, angular wings because of which they appear to fly like birds.
Pollen gets attached to the legs of the butterfly and is carried from plant to plant, assisting in fertilization and the propagation of new seeds and plants.
Butterflies weigh as little as two rose petals!
As a butterfly increases in size, the skin of the caterpillar grows with it, and so, it is necessary for the insect to shed it. Most caterpillars shed their outgrown skin five times before entering the pupa stage.
Parnassian butterflies have been found high up in the Rocky Mountains, at altitudes of 14,000 feet.
Butterflies have very short lifespans. Some, such as Monarchs and Mourning Cloaks, can live up to 9 to 10 months, but others live anywhere from a few months to weeks, or maybe even for some hours.
Caterpillars are boneless, but have over 1000 muscles. These muscles help the caterpillar move very quickly from place to place.
Butterflies are fragile creatures, and their population can either thrive, or be adversely affected with changes in the climatic conditions. Plenty of butterflies indicate a healthy and well-balanced ecosystem, while a dearth can denote a possible environmental problem.
All butterflies aren’t nectar-loving. Some, like the Red Admiral Butterfly, have decidedly peculiar tastes. They like rotting fruit and animal dung. They excrete Meconium, a red liquid (that looks like blood), which is made up of waste material from the pupal stage.
The Red Admiral is a popular butterfly species found.
Butterflies are a valuable source of food for various birds, and thus play an important role in maintaining the ecological balance.
Conservation of natural habitats, and reduction in the use of pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals are required for their proliferation.
Some butterflies are becoming quite rare as their natural habitats are shrinking. Xerces Blue, a beautiful-looking American butterfly species that was found in the San Francisco Peninsula, became extinct in 1943 due to habitat loss.
Male Swallowtail butterflies habitually gather around mud puddles to get nutrients and minerals from the mud. This is known as “puddling”.
Certain butterfly species, like the Monarch Butterfly, produce toxins that discourage predators from feeding on them. In the Monarch’s case, the toxin production is aided by the milkweed plant on which it usually feeds.
Some Popular Butterfly Species
Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon)
Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus)
Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus)
Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)
Woodland Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanoides)
Sara Orangetip (Anthocharis sara)
Purplish Copper (Lycaena helloides)