Characteristics of butterflies

With graceful flight and colorful wings, butterflies are among the most acclaimed insects in society for their beauty. However, beyond their outer beauty, these delicate creatures hold very interesting secrets.

To start talking about the characteristics of butterflies and various aspects about them, we will first locate them as living beings. These belong to the most abundant animal group, that of insects , and as such, they are arthropods , that is, they have the body divided into three parts: head, thorax and abdomen. Likewise, within the group of insects , butterflies are Lepidoptera , the fourth most diverse group in number of species, whose main characteristic focuses on having wings with scales . Finally, these beautiful beings are holometabolos, or what is the same, their development is based on four phases: embryo, caterpillar or larva, pupa and adult.

Physical characteristics of butterflies

Regarding their physical characteristics, these colorful insects have a pair of long antennae, compound eyes, six legs, sensory hairs, and two large wings. It is in the thorax where the activity of the flight is controlled and from where these characteristic wings are born, which can only take flight if the body temperature of the butterfly exceeds 30 degrees.

The main function of these flight mechanisms is focused on regulating the body temperature of the butterflies, as well as being allies as signaling and courtship tactics in mating seasons. The striking and iridescent colors of these wings are due to the diffraction and refraction of light that occurs in their scales, full of colors thanks to pigmentation. Unfortunately, when butterflies get old, they lose color.

The common habitat of these animals is based mainly on tropical regions with warm climates throughout or almost all year round and abundant vegetation , their main source of food. It is in the tropics where you can find more number of species.

On the contrary, in temperate regions, the number of species decreases as latitude increases, being few those that endure cold temperatures. However, butterflies are so geographically diversified that Antarctica is the only continent where species of Lepidoptera cannot be found.

What do butterflies eat

During their period as caterpillars, these insects devour almost any plant matter thanks to their chewing mouth apparatus, such as stems, leaves or flowers, although they can also take advantage of certain foods collected and treated by humans such as seeds, grains or flour. Once mature, butterflies suck pollen, nectar, and fungal spores through their lick-sucking mouthparts, which we could commonly say is the butterfly’s tongue , technically called spiritrompa or spiral proboscis .

However, according to the type of diet they have, butterflies can be divided into three groups: polyphagous, oligophagous and monophagous.

  • Polyphages : their diet is very varied. Caterpillars do not deny almost any type of plant.
  • Oligophagous : in this case, butterflies only accept certain types of plants that correspond to a specific family, type or genus.
  • Manofagas: the most specialized only take one type of food, be it a specific species or even a certain part of it, such as selected leaves, fruits, etc. Although this type is less common, there are phantom species that see their existence conditioned by the specific type of food they eat, so if that food disappears, they will too.

How butterflies reproduce

During the courtship season of butterflies , they are located by flapping and smelling and use their precious wings for seduction. After mating, the females lay hundreds of whitish, yellow or green eggs in sheltered places with abundant vegetation.

At birth, the small caterpillars protect themselves from predators, feed on plants and later transform into pupae or chrysalis , a period in which they do not feed and undergo major changes. Then the butterflies emerge with their colorful shapely wings ready to fly.

Butterfly metamorphosis

  1. Egg: mainly laid on some leaf.
  2. Caterpillar or larva: during this period, the larva is supplied with leaves and flowers continuously, it does not stop eating until it doubles in size several times.
  3. Pupa: in this stage, the chrysalis or pupa remains covered and at rest.
  4. Adults: this is when the butterfly emerges as an adult, flies and continues the cycle until reproduction. 
Types of butterflies: species

Although only approximately 130,000 species of butterflies and moths have been described, it is estimated that there are around 200,000 species of these. Unfortunately, it is possible that at the rate we are going, we can never meet the rest of the hitherto unknown species, since these animals, as with many others, are seeing their populations reduced by human impact.

Here are some of the most surprising butterfly species :

  • Monarch butterfly: considered the “king of butterflies”, it is one of the most famous. This species migrates from Canada and the eastern United States to Mexico and California in search of warmth.
  • Vanessa de los thistles: butterfly: This butterfly is found in many places in the world, Europe, America, Asia and Africa. This makes it one of the best distributed.
  • Owl butterfly: this amazing butterfly is one of the largest in existence. It can be found in tropical forests in Central and South America.
  • Zebra butterfly: This common butterfly is distinguished by its black and white stripes and is endemic to tropical areas of America.
  • Ulysses Butterfly: of Australian origin, this butterfly is also called the blue mountain butterfly.
  • Transparent or crystal butterfly: In this case, this crystal-like butterfly can be seen in Central America.
  • Leaf butterfly: Endemic to the Canary Islands, this species is strikingly similar to a leaf.
  • White Morpho Butterfly ( Morpho ) – A beautiful tropical butterfly endemic to Central America and the West Indies.
  • Lemon butterfly – Bright yellow in color, this butterfly can be seen in Europe, Asia, and North Africa.
  • Peacock butterfly: This precious type is distributed in Europe and northern Asia.

More curiosities about butterflies

To finish, we leave you a list of curiosities of the butterflies that you surely did not know:

  • Butterflies are mainly diurnal and moths are nocturnal, although there are exceptions.
  • The life of adult butterflies is quite short-lived, some species live for just one day.
  • Butterflies generally weigh very little, about two rose petals.
  • There are incredibly large specimens of butterflies, such as the birdwing butterfly, which can measure up to 11 inches wide. Others are tiny, like the western blue pygmy butterfly, just a few millimeters in size.
  • The fastest butterflies fly at more than 45 km / h, the slowest at only 8 km / h.
  • Some species of butterflies use sounds and noises they produce with their wings to communicate, most female butterflies release pheromones so that males can locate them at distances of even 2 kilometers.
  • The tongue of butterflies is trunk-shaped, and can retract, at rest, or stretch, to suck nectar from flowers.
  • Butterflies can see red, yellow and green colors; they smell with antennae; and although they do not hear, they feel vibrations.
  • Females are larger than males and live longer.
  • After bees, butterflies are the largest and most important group of pollinating insects .

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