Butterflies are winged creatures belonging to the order Lepidoptera, which also included moths. It is unlikely that you have not seen them, fluttering about in your garden or in your local park, skipping from flower to flower. Each butterfly you see belongs to one to two superfamilies, either Hesperioidea (commonly known as ‘Skippers’) or Papilionoidea. Some lepidopterists, or butterfly experts, also include the superfamily Hedyloidea, which is comprised of the American butterfly moths.Butterflies come in a huge variety of colours, with many different patterns imprinted upon their wings, much to the delight of those who witness them on their journey during the summer months. If touched, a butterfly will shed some scales, and if too many are lost the creature will be unable to fly.Therefore it is important that you avoid touching butterflies and that you take the greatest care when attempting to release a butterfly trapped indoors. Much to the enjoyment of butterfly lovers, several butterfly species require more sodium than is available from the nectar they drink, and therefore, they often land on humans whose sweat contains high amounts of sodium rich salt. Keep an eye out for butterflies in your garden and you too will be able to marvel at their magnificent colours and elegance.
Butterfly wings have long been a fascination for both lovers of nature and scientists alike. The incredible variety of patterns created by the tiny scales are a gateway into understanding the processes that create morphological variation in nature. Within science, butterflies are often used in field studies for a collection of experiments within the fields of biology and ecology. They are considered one of the best organisms to examine for understanding evolutionary biology.
A false etymology claims that the word butterfly came from a metathesis of “flutterby”; however, the Old English word was buttorfleoge and a similar word occurs in Dutch, apparently because butterflies were thought to steal milk. An alternative folk etymology, current in Great Britain, is that it originated as a contraction of the term butter-coloured fly referring to the Brimstone Butterfly Gonepteryx rhamni, often the first butterfly of Spring.
Although the butterflies are classified in two superfamilies, Hesperioidea and Papilionoidea, these are sister taxa, so the butterflies collectively are thought to constitute a true clade. Some modern taxonomists place them all in superfamily Papilionoidea, distinguishing the skippers from the other butterflies at the series level only. There is only one family in the Hesperioidea (or series Hesperiiformes), the skipper family Hesperiidae. The families usually recognised in the Papilionoidea (or Papilioniformes) are:
Swallowtails and Birdwings, Family Papilionidae
Whites or Yellow-Whites, Family Pieridae
Blues and Coppers or Gossamer-Winged Butterflies, Family Lycaenidae
Metalmark butterflies, Family Riodinidae
Brush-footed butterflies, Family Nymphalidae
Butterflies and moths are often confused with each other. Although there are many ways of distinguishing a butterfly from a moth, See the difference between a butterfly and a moth, there are exceptions to every rule and it is perhaps better to think of Butterflies as a group of day flying moths.
A major new study (Wahlberg et al., 2005) combining morphological and molecular data concluded that Hesperiidae, Papilionidae, Pieridae, Lycaenidae and Riodinidae could all be strongly supported as monophyletic clades, but the status of Nymphalidae is equivocal. Lycaenidae and Riodinidae were confirmed as sister taxa, and Papilionidae as the outgroup to the rest of the true butterflies, but the location of Pieridae within the pattern of descent was unclear, with different lines of evidence suggesting different conclusions. The data suggested that the Hedyloidea are indeed more closely related to the butterflies than to other moths.
Some older classifications recognize additional families, for example Danaidae, Heliconiidae, Libytheidae and Satyridae, but modern classifications treat these as subfamilies within the Nymphalidae.
Although some species of butterfly communicate with each other using sound, such as making noises with their wings, most use chemical signals. The male butterfly will produce pheromones, which are chemicals that trigger a welcoming behavioral response between the same species.
Fun Facts About Butterflies
Butterflies wings are actually transparent. The iridescent scales, which overlap like shingles on a roof, give the wings the colors that we see. Contrary to popular belief, many butterflies can be held gently by the wings without harming the butterfly. Of course, some are more fragile than others, and are easily damaged if not handled very gently.
Both butterflies and moths belong to the order Lepidoptera. In Greek, this means scale wing.
Butterflies range in size from 1/8 inch to an astonishing 12 inches.
Butterflies can see the colors red, green, and yellow.
The top butterfly flight speed is around 12 miles per hour. However, some moths can fly at
speeds of up to 25 miles per hour.
Monarch butterflies journey from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, a distance of about
2,000 miles, and return to the north again in the spring.
Butterflies cannot fly if their body temperature is below 86 degrees.
Representations of butterflies are seen in Egyptian frescoes at Thebes, which are 3,500 years
Antarctica is the only continent on which no Lepidoptera (Butterflies/Moths) have been
There are about 24,000 species of butterflies. The moths are even more numerous with
around 140,000 known species across the globe.
The Brimstone butterfly (Gonepterix rhamni) has the longest lifetime of the adult butterflies:
The females of some moth species lack wings, all they can do to move is crawl.
Some Case Moth caterpillars (Psychidae) build a case around themselves that they always
carry with them. It is made of silk and pieces of plants or soil.
The caterpillars of some Snout Moths (Pyralididae) live in or on water-plants.
The Morgan’s Sphinx Moth from Madagascar has a proboscis (tube mouth) that is 12 to 14
inches long to get the nectar from the bottom of a 12 inch deep orchid discovered by
Some moths never eat anything as adults because they don’t have mouths. They must live
on the energy they stored as caterpillars.
Many butterflies can taste with their feet to find out whether the leaf they sit on is good to
lay eggs on to be their caterpillars’ food or not.
There are more types of insects in one tropical rain forest tree than there are in the entire
state of Vermont.
People eat insects – called “Entomophagy”(people eating bugs) – it has been practiced for
centuries throughout Africa, Australia, Asia, the Middle East, and North, Central and South
America. Why? Because many bugs are both protein-rich and good sources of vitamins,
minerals and fats.