All About Butterflies

Have you ever had one of those moments where the world around you seems to stop for just a minute, as you witness something incredible? Picture this-- it is a warm, sunny day, and you are outside when you happen to see something colorful quickly fly past. You turn your head, and soon discover that it is a butterfly!

Butterflies are beautiful, amazing creatures that tend to steal our attention as they flitter on by. A butterfly is an insect that flies during the day, and sleeps at night. It is part of the order known as Lepidoptera, which moths also belong to. The moth, a very distant cousin, looks similar to the butterfly. Both have a four phase lifespan, progressing from egg, to larva, then to pupa, and finally to the adult stage. Scientists call this transformation 'metamorphosis.' Once it has reached the adult stage, the butterfly grows colorful wings that flicker really fast in mid-flight. The colorful patterns on a butterfly's wings have been known to captivate the human eye.

A Butterfly's Life Cycle
Butterflies and moths transform through a natural cycle known as metamorphosis. During this transformation, the butterfly undergoes four different stages, including the egg, larva, pupa, and adult forms. As with any other insect, the butterfly starts its life as an egg. The larva, or caterpillar, hatches from its egg and then eats leaves or flowers. The caterpillar sheds its old skin many times as it grows bigger. The larva turns into a chrysalis, or pupa, where it rests until it breaks out of its shell. Once the pupa leaves its shell, it becomes a beautiful, flying insect. The butterfly does not grow during its adult stage, because it spends its time reproducing, to continue the life cycle.

Parts of a Butterfly
There are many different parts that make up a butterfly. The butterfly has a beautiful body, also known as an exoskeleton, which protects it from predators. It has four wings to help it fly, and antennae that allow it to smell. A small organ at the base of its antennae helps the butterfly keep its balance. It breathes air through nine pairs of pores, called spiracles, which allow oxygen to circulate through its body . The spiracles are located on the bottom of the butterfly’s abdomen and thorax. A butterfly also has a proboscis, which it uses to drink nectar from plants.

Where a Butterfly Lives

People can find butterflies and moths in many parts of the world. About 20,000 species of butterflies and moths exist in the world, with just over 700 species in United States alone. Butterflies exist in other geographic regions outside of the US as well. Some species live in very small areas, while others fly across several continents to avoid harsh climates. Butterflies and moths stay close to their food sources in their youngest stages, so they can grow properly. Some people enjoy being around butterflies, so they create gardens with plants that especially attract butterflies.

Butterfly Food

Butterflies will eat anything that dissolves in water, including plant nectar, tree sap, fecal matter, pollen, and rotting fruit. They are attracted to the salt found in these foods, and may even land on people to drink their sweat. The sodium helps the butterfly reproduce.

Butterflies get their food from drinking, unlike humans who eat whole foods. They have a long narrow tube attached to their mouth, also called a proboscis, that acts like a straw. The butterfly sits on the petals and then puts the proboscis into the flower to suck up nectar for nourishment. Butterflies may form groups on small puddles of wet leaves, to drink in the water. They can taste a flower's nectar through the sensors located on each of their six legs.

A Butterfly's Colors

People love the beautiful colors and wing patterns found on butterflies. The main pigments found on the scales include red, yellow, black, and white. In tropical climates, butterflies can develop blue, green, and metallic tints. Birds avoid the colored species of butterflies, while others are protected by their ability to look like those distasteful species, a process known as mimicry. The swallowtails, monarchs, peacocks, and tortoiseshell butterflies can be found all over the world. They are some of the most beautiful butterfly species known to mankind.

Butterfly Fun Facts

Here are some fun and interesting facts about butterflies:

Butterflies are cold-blooded insects. They need the warmth of the sun to fly if the temperature dips below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Caterpillars do not have bones-- they have over one thousand muscles they use to move from side to side. Most caterpillars move very quickly. Try placing a caterpillar in a specific spot and it will move out of sight before you know it.

Butterflies excrete a red fluid from its pupa that is often mistakened for blood.

In contrast to urban legend, a butterfly will not become hurt if somebody touches its wings. The butterfly simply loses its miniature scales.

Some species of butterflies avoid nectar, and may instead feed on rotting fruit and fecal matter.

Only the male gender of the swallowtails gather around mud puddles to drink the nutrients from them.

Once a bird eats a monarch butterfly, it receives a harsh reminder not to eat another one, due to its toxic effect.

Butterflies of the World

People from all over the world have come to love butterflies for their beautiful winged wonders. Butterflies live in gardens, forests, mountains, acid bogs, and even in the arctic tundra. Only 725 species have settled down in North America, not including Mexico. There are almost 2000 species of butterflies in Mexico alone. The rest of the butterfly population totals over twenty thousand species.

Families have taken their children to see these amazing creatures in special museums. These exhibits have stopped people from going into the forest and capturing wild butterflies. Each butterfly has its own shape, size, and color that makes it unique from the next. Some of these butterflies include the Great Eggfly, Great Mormon Swallowtail, Common Rose Butterfly, Shoemaker Butterfly, Postman Butterfly, Owl Butterfly, Great Orangetip, and the Cydno Longwing.