Learn about the 5 Fascinating Facts in Butterflies
February 22, 2021
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’ and that later became ‘Butterfly’. Butterflies are very good fliers. They have two pairs of large wings covered with colorful, iridescent scales in overlapping rows. Butterflies are beautiful, flying insects with large scaly wings. Like all insects, they have six jointed legs, 3 body parts, a pair of antennae, compound eyes, and an exoskeleton. Like living fairies, butterflies flutter across flowery meadows on beautiful wings.
This list includes 5 cool facts that are sure to make you think about butterflies in a whole new way.
1. Life-Cycle of a Butterfly
Butterflies in their adult stage can live from a week to nearly a year depending on the species. Many species have long larval life stages while others can remain dormant in their pupal or egg stages and thereby survive winters. Butterflies and moths undergo complete metamorphosis in which they go through four different life stages.
- 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.
2. Butterfly and Moth Senses
Butterflies use their senses of sight, touch, hearing, smell, and taste to survive in the world, find food and mates, lay eggs in an appropriate place, migrate, and avoid hungry predators. Caterpillars can sense touch, taste, smell, sound, and light.
The vision of butterflies and moths changes radically in their different stages of life. Butterflies and moths (like many other adult insects) have compound eyes and simple eyes. These eyes are made up of many hexagonal lens/corneas which focus light from each part of the insect’s field of view onto a rhabdome (the equivalent of our retina). An optic nerve then carries this information to the insect’s brain. They see very differently from us; they can see ultraviolet rays (which are invisible to us).
3. Touch, Hearing, Balance and Taste
Butterflies and moths: 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.
Caterpillars: A caterpillar’s “fuzz” gives it its sense of touch. Caterpillars sense touch using long hairs (called tactile setae) that grow through holes all over their hard exoskeleton. These hairs are attached to nerve cells, and relay information about the touch to the insect’s brain.
SMELL AND TASTE
Caterpillars: A caterpillar’s maxillae (small mouth parts that are under the mandibles) have taste cells; these chemical detectors tell the caterpillar to eat when the food is appropriate, and not to eat when the food is not appropriate. The tiny antennae, which are near the mouth parts, sense smells.
Butterflies and moths: A butterfly’s antennae, palps, legs,and many other parts of the body are studded with sense receptors that are used to smell. The sense of smell is used for finding food (usually flower nectar), and for finding mates (the female smelling the male’s pheromones. A butterfly’s feet have sense organs that can taste the sugar in nectar, letting the butterfly know if something is good to eat or not. Some females also taste host plants (using organs on their legs) in order to find appropriate places to lay their eggs.
Caterpillars startle at loud noises.
Butterflies and moths hear sounds through their wings.
Butterflies and moths: Johnston’s organ is an organ at the base of a butterfly’s antennae. This organ are responsible for maintaining the butterfly’s sense of balance and orientation, especially during flight.
Butterflies can get pretty big. Some Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterflies have a foot-long wingspan. In contrast, the western pygmy blue has a maximum wingspan of about three-quarters of an inch. Perched on a human finger, it looks ridiculously tiny, even when spreading its wings to their full glorious extent.
4. Caterpillar and Butterfly Defense Mechanism
Caterpillars are soft bodied and slow moving. This makes them easy prey for predators, like birds, wasps, and mammals to mention just a few. Some caterpillars are even eaten by their fellow caterpillars (like Zebra swallowtail larva which are cannibalistic).
In order to protect themselves from predators, caterpillars use different strategies, including:
- Poison Some caterpillars are poisonous to predators. These caterpillars get their toxicity from the plants they eat. Generally, the brightly colored larva are poisonous; their color is a reminder to predators about their toxicity. Some poisonous caterpillars include the Monarch and the Pipevine Swallowtail.
- Camouflage Some caterpillars blend into their surroundings extraordinarily well. Many are a shade of green that matches their host plant. Others look inedible objects, like bird droppings (the young Tiger Swallowtail larva).
- Eyespots Some caterpillars have eyespots that make them look like a bigger, more dangerous animal, like a snake. An eye spot is a circular, eye-like marking found on the body of some caterpillars. These eyespots make the insect look like the face of a much larger animal and may scare away some predators.
- Hiding Some caterpillars encase themselves in a folded leaf or other hiding place.
- Bad smells Some caterpillars can emit very bad smells to ward off predators. They have an osmeterium, an orange, y-shaped gland on their neck which gives off a strong, unpleasant odor when the caterpillar is threatened. This keeps away dangerous wasps and flies that try to lay eggs in the caterpillar; these eggs would eventually kill the caterpillar as they hatch inside its body and eat its tissues. Many swallowtails have an osmeterium, including the Zebra Swallowtail.
Butterflies are fragile and almost defenseless creatures. They rely on a variety of strategies to protect them from hungry predators. Their predators include birds, spiders, reptiles, other insects (e.g., wasps, flies, and mites), and small mammals.
Most butterflies and moth protect themselves from predators by using camouflage. Some butterflies and moths blend into their environment so well that is it almost impossible to spot them when they are resting on a branch. Some butterflies look like dead leaves (like the Indian leaf butterfly), others look like the bark of a tree (e.g., the carpenter moth).
Some butterflies are poisonous. When a predator, like a bird, eats one of these butterflies it becomes sick, vomits violently, and quickly learns not to eat this type of butterfly. The sacrifice of one butterfly will save the lives of many of its kind (and other species that look like it – see the section on mimicry below). Many poisonous species have similar markings (warning patterns). When a predators learns this pattern (after becoming sick from eating one species), many species with similar patterns will be avoided in the future . Some poisonous butterflies include the Monarch (which eats the milkweed plant to become poisonous), the Small Postman butterfly, and the Pipevine swallowtail.
5. Butterfly Gardens
A successful butterfly garden has plants that meet butterfly’s needs during all four life stages, the egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and adult. You can attract butterflies to your garden by providing them with food (plants and flowers), water, shelter, and places to lay their eggs (host plants). Butterflies drink nectar, so growing nectar-rich flowers will attract butterflies to your garden. Also, when their eggs hatch, the caterpillars eat the foliage of the plant they were laid on, so growing the right type of plants to feed caterpillars is important, since it will allow female butterflies to lay their eggs in your garden.
PLANTS FOR NOURISHMENT AND PLANTS TO LAY EGGS ON
There are two different functions that plants serve for butterflies:
Most butterflies only eat flower nectar. Different species of butterfly usually prefer different flowers, but they will generally feed on many types of flowers from plants, shrubs, vines, and trees.
When it comes to laying their eggs, however, butterflies only lay them on the plant that the caterpillar will eventually eat (this differs from species to species). The eggs are frequently laid on the underside of leaves.
Caterpillars mostly eat leaves; usually the leaves that they were laid on.
The chrysalis (pupa) does not eat, but needs a sheltered environment. It frequently hangs from a twig and is often camouflaged.
•Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)
•Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) or other milkweeds