Butterfly Stuff

What is a butterfly?

Butterflies are insects from the order Lepidoptera. There are approximately 165,000 different species of butterflies. They all have an exoskeleton, three body parts, six legs, a pair of antennae, compound eyes, a coiled mouthpart (called a proboscis) and wings that are covered with colorful scales.

Is there a difference between butterflies and moths?

  • In most cases, moths are active at night (nocturnal) and butterflies are active during the day (diurnal).
  • Butterflies sometimes flaunt bright colors on their wings which can be seen well in the sunlight, while moths are typically more dull-colored to provide camouflage at night.
  • Butterfly antennas usually straight with knobs at the end while moth antennae look more feather-like.
  • Butterfly caterpillars most often develop into hard chrysalises which are hung up by silken lines, while moths usually develop cocoons that are often buried under leaves or soil and may be wrapped in a silken casing.
  • When at rest, a butterfly’s wings are usually folded up while moths are typically spread out.

How big or small can butterflies be?

The largest butterfly known is the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing. It can have a wingspan of up to 11 inches. One of the smallest butterflies is the Western Pigmy Blue. It has a wingspan of about one centimeter

What do butterflies see?

Most butterflies can see ultraviolet colors that are invisible to the our eyes. Many flowers, host plants and butterfly wings have this ultraviolet color so butterflies can easily distinguish them.

Can butterflies hear or smell?

Butterflies cannot hear, but they can feel vibration and they have an excellent sense of smell. Butterflies can smell or “taste” with the tiny receptors they have on their feet, antennas and in some cases even on their abdomens.

How do butterflies grow?

Butterflies have a very special life cycle. They actually change shape as they go through their life cycle. This change is called metamorphosis. Butterflies go through a complete metamorphosis starting as an egg, then caterpillar, then chrysalis and then finally an adult butterfly. An adult butterfly does not not grow once emerged from its chrysalis.

What is a caterpillar and a chrysalis?

In butterflies the larva is commonly referred to as a caterpillar, while the pupa is a chrysalis. Most caterpillars have enormous appetites and eat large amounts of leaves as they grow. Caterpillars molt skin several times (called an instar) as it grows. When the caterpillar is done growing, the last molting reveals a chrysalis. The development of the adult butterfly takes place inside of the chrysalis.

Where do butterflies live?

Butterflies can be found just about everywhere imaginable. They can live in forests, mountains, deserts, jungles, grasslands and marshes. Butterflies are even found in the Arctic regions but not typically above 18,000 feet where it is too cool for them to survive. Butterflies nectar, escape enemies, mate and migrate in all sorts of environments as they adapt to keep their species alive.

What do butterflies eat and how do they eat?

Most adult butterflies drink nectar from flowers. Their mouthparts are modified to form a soda-straw like tube, allowing them to slurp nectar from deep inside a flower. When not in use, they hold this “tube” or proboscis coiled up close to their head. Some butterflies may also get nourishment from nutrient rich materials such as mineral rocks, mud, rotting fruit or dung.

Do Male and Female Butterflies look different?

In many species the males and female butterflies look alike, in some species however, there may be some subtle differences. Sometimes males are smaller and more brightly colored, while the females tend to be larger (as they have to carry eggs) and less brightly colored.

In most species it would be hard to tell in a quick glance whether you were looking at a male or female butterfly, but if you watched a butterflies behavior for a little while you might get a clue as to what sex the butterfly was. Females are typically preoccupied with egg laying, while the males often tend to be the ones you will see puddling (drinking up nutrients), protecting their territories and chasing females about.

How long do butterflies live?

An adult butterfly probably has an average life-span of about one month. In the wild, most butterflies lives are shorter than this because of the dangers provided by predators, disease and humans. The smallest butterflies may live only a week or so, while a few butterflies, such as Monarch, Mourning Cloaks and Tropical Heliconians can live up to nine months.

Where do butterflies spend the night?

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 so me other shelter then sleep.

How do butterflies spend the winter?

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 a resident. Most butterflies that live in cold climates spend the winter as caterpillars, while almost as many spend the winter as a chrysalis. A few species 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 species may migrate to warmer climates for the winter, such as the monarch butterfly.

Can butterflies fly in cold weather?

Butterflies are cold-blooded, which means that their body temperatures are not regulated on their own. A butterfly’s body temperature is instead affected by the temperatures of its surroundings. If it is too cold butterflies must warm up their bodies in order fly, if it is too warm they must cool down their bodies in order to fly.

The optimum body temperature for a butterfly to fly is between 82 -102 degrees fahrenheit. Butterflies can fly in air temperatures as cool as 55 degrees fahrenheit but they must regulate their body temperature and keep it warm by practicing behavioral tactics such a shivering their wings or basking in the sun. If the temperature is over 108° F a butterfly body temperature may become to warm to fly and it may have to cool its body temperature by staying in the shade for a bit.

Vickie Cole is a Web and Graphic Designer who enjoys butterfly gardening and photography. Vickie writes short articles for her Obsession With Butterflies website and OWB Flutter-Blog. She is an active member of the Orange County Chapter of NABA (North American Butterfly Association). She resides in southern California with her husband and daughter.

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