Butterflies are beautiful, flying insects with large, often brightly colored wings.
There are approximately 20,000 species of butterflies in the world.
On average, an adult butterfly lives about a month. However, the time can vary greatly between species, and females tend to live longer than males. It’s extremely unusual for a butterfly of any species to live longer than a year.
Butterflies can be found all over the world! In fact, they live on every continent except Antarctica.
Like all insects, they have a three-part body (head, thorax and abdomen), three pairs of jointed legs, compound eyes and one pair of antennae.
A butterfly has four wings, two forewings and two hindwings. Both sets of wings attach to the midsection, or thorax, of the butterfly.
Butterfly wings are actually clear — the colors and patterns we see are made by the reflection of the tiny scales covering them.
The color of a butterfly can be for protection. The big spots on an owl butterfly look like the eyes of a much larger animal, so a predator like a bird may think twice about attacking. Other butterflies are camouflaged to blend into their environment, and some are brightly colored to warn that they are poisonous.
Butterflies vary in size.
The world’s largest butterfly is the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing. It has a wingspan of 25 centimeters (9.8 inches) and is native to Papua New Guinea.
The world’s smallest butterfly is the Western Pygmy Blue. It has a wingspan of 12 milimeters (0.5 inch) and is native to the western U.S.
Butterflies are primarily diurnal, flying in the daytime.
At night, or during inclement weather, most butterflies perch on the underside of a leaf, crawl deep between blades of grass or into a crevice in rocks, or find some other shelter, and sleep.
Butterflies are cold-blooded, meaning they cannot regulate their own body temperature. As a result, their body temperature changes with the temperature of their surroundings.
Butterflies are mostly solitary creatures. However, some species migrate in massive numbers.
The fastest butterflies are the skippers, which can fly at 60 kilometers per hour (37 miles per hour) , but most butterflies fly at 8 to 20 kilometers per hour (5 to 12 miles per hour). A few species can fly at great heights, as much as 3,000 meters (10,000 feet).
Butterflies can’t hear, but they can feel vibrations.
Setae (sensory hairs) on the insect’s entire body (including the antennae) can feel the environment. They also give the insect information about the wind while it is flying.
A butterfly uses its feet and antennae to smell/taste. When it lands on a flower, its feet detect the smell/taste of the substances in the plant and decide if they’re suitable food, or not.
Butterflies don’t have noses and lungs as we do. Adult butterflies, as well as caterpillars, breathe through a series of tiny openings along the sides of their bodies, called “spiracles.” From each spiracle, a tube called a “trachea” carries oxygen into the body.
Butterflies can see red, green, and yellow, but they also see color in the ultraviolet range, which reveals patterns on flowers—and other butterflies—that we can’t see.
Most fully grown butterflies extract and eat nectar from flowers by using their tongue as a straw, while a smaller minority of butterflies consume tree sap, rotting animal matter, and other organic material. The larvae of butterflies, called caterpillars, feed voraciously on plant material, especially leaves.
Butterflies change four times during their lives in a process which is called metamorphosis.
Egg – A butterfly starts its life as an egg, often laid on a leaf.
Larva – The larva (caterpillar) hatches from an egg and eats leaves or flowers almost constantly. The caterpillar molts (loses its old skin) many times as it grows. The caterpillar will increase up to several thousand times in size before pupating.
Pupa – It turns into a pupa (chrysalis); this is a resting stage.
Adult – A beautiful, flying adult emerges. This adult will continue the cycle.
In areas where temperatures drop below freezing during part of the winter, at least one stage in a butterfly species’ life cycle must be resistant to freezing if the species is resident. Most butterflies that live in cold climates spend the winter as caterpillars, while almost as many spend the winter as pupas. A few species, mainly tortoiseshells (Nymphalis) and anglewings (Polygonia), spend the winter as adults, hibernating in holes in trees, in crevices in man-made structures, or in other shelters. A very few species spend the winter as eggs.
Some butterflies, especially in the tropics, have several generations in a year, while others have a single generation, and a few in cold locations may take several years to pass through their whole life cycle.
Some of the common predators of butterflies include wasps, ants, parasitic flies, birds, snakes, toads, rats, lizards, dragonflies and even monkeys! A few of the other animals that are constantly adding butterflies onto their menu list are frogs and spiders.
The largest threat to butterflies is loss of habitat.
Butterflies have intrigued and been of one of natures wonders due to their gentle nature and bright colors.
Butterflies have appeared in art from 3500 years ago in ancient Egypt.
In the ancient Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan, the brilliantly coloured image of the butterfly was carved into many temples, buildings, jewellery, and emblazoned on incense burners.
Butterflies are widely used in objects of art and jewellery: mounted in frames, embedded in resin, displayed in bottles, laminated in paper, and used in some mixed media artworks and furnishings.