Butterfly Facts and Trivia

What Is a Butterfly ?

Butterflies belong to INSECTS, which is the largest, most varied group of animals.

The main features of these animals have in common are:

  • ¬†6 legs
  • One pair of antennae
  • Segmented body in which three body parts, a head, a thorax and an abdomen can be distinguished.
  • Insects are further divided into 30 orders, the main basis of classification being their wing structure.
  • Butterflies belong to, alongside with moths to an order called Lepidoptera.

Butterflies and moths together are called Lepidoptera  in the classification of insects, Lepidoptera is the order or niche for them both. Their wings are covered with tiny scales and that is where the name Lepidoptera comes from. Butterflies alone are called Papilionoidea  which is the superfamily of butterflies.

Butterflies are day-flying while moths generally fly at night. However, there are moths that are active during the day that could easily pass for butterflies. The best feature to look at is their antennae: Butterflies always have threadlike antennae that club tipped. Moths can have many types of antennae: feathery, hairy, threadlike or filamentous, but without the clubbed tips.

Life Cycle of a Butterfly

The Egg – the Birth

The embryo develops inside the egg. A typical time for this process would be from two to three weeks, however there are species that overwinter at this stage, and thus remain in this state from the summer to the following spring.

The eggs vary in shape, pattern and colour, all of them carrying certain characteristics of the species in question. Once the caterpillar is fully formed, it is able to pierce the eggshell and it will eat a hole just large enough for emerging from the egg.

The Caterpillar or Larva – the Growth

This is a vital stage in the life cycle of a butterfly: this is when the growth occurs. Utilizing its food plant, the caterpillar absorbs a large quantity of food. As the caterpillars do not have elastic skin, they need to shed their skin four times. The new skin is much larger than the previous one, thus enabling the growth.

As with eggs and the adult butterflies, caterpillars are unique in their appearance. This stage usually lasts from one to two months, but some species overwinter as caterpillars. The caterpillars are vulnerable to predators, and are often well camouflaged to blend in with their food plant or habitat.

The Pupa – the Transformation

How an active caterpillar becomes a pupa with no ability to move is one of nature’s great wonders. At the end of the caterpillar’s final instar (an interval between the moults) there is one more skin change, in which the skin splits to reveal a wet, glistening creature that looks like a hunched-up caterpillar.

In a couple of hours the pupal characters become prominent and once the outer layer dries and hardens the pupal stage is fully formed.

Before this final transformation the caterpillar seeks a place where to pupate. Generally butterflies do not spin cocoons to protect the pupa. However, many of them use their silk for fastening themselves in a plant.

The pupae are astutely camouflaged by form and colour, which protects them during this vulnerable stage.

Inside the pupal the metamorphosis takes place. From the minute initial stages of adult features, cells grow to produce the recognisable adult characters. The duration of this stage is usually about two weeks, however, some species overwinter as pupae.

The Butterfly – the miracle: the End, the Beginning

When the metamorphosis is completed, the adult butterfly breaks the pupal case, pulls itself out and hangs upside down with its wings wet and limp.

It begins immediately expanding its wings by forcefully pumping blood into the veins of its wings. Once the wings have reached their definite measurements, the butterfly lets them dry and harden up.

When that is accomplished, the butterfly pumps the blood back out of its wing veins. Now the wings are light and strong, and the butterfly is ready to take a flight for the first time.

The freshly emerged, beautiful butterfly will fly to seek nourishment and then congeners to mate with, thus creating new beauty in the world. To fulfil this task the butterfly will have to brave the weather, the unsettled environmental conditions, and of course it has to be always wary of its predators.

Now, with this newly emerged butterfly, the cycle is to start from the very beginning…..