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Butterfly Glossary

 1 - In Japan, a butterfly is seen as the personification of a person's soul. It is also regarded as a symbol of transformation because of its impressive process of metamorphosis.

2 - Butterflies range in size from a tiny 1/2 inch to almost 12 inches.

3 - Butterflies and insects have their skeletons on the outside of their bodies, called the exoskeleton. This protects the insect and keeps water inside their bodies so they don’t dry out.

4 - A butterfly's lifecycle is made up of four parts, egg, larva (caterpillars), pupa (chrysalis) and adult.

5 - Butterflies have four wings.

6 - Butterflies can live in the adult stage from anywhere between a week and a year, depending on the species.

7 - Scientists estimate that there are between 15000 and 20000 different species of butterfly.

 8 - Butterflies don't bite because they can't. Caterpillars munch on leaves and eat voraciously with their chewing mouthparts, and some of them do bite if they feel threatened. But once they become butterflies, they only have a long, curled proboscis, which is like a soft drinking straw— their jaws are gone.

9 - Monarch butterflies are known for their long migration. Every year monarch butterflies will travel a great distance (sometimes over 4000 km), females will lay eggs and a new generation of monarchs will travel back, completing the cycle.

10 - Butterflies can see red, green, and yellow.

11 - An adult butterfly will eventually emerge from the chrysalis where it will wait a few hours for its wings to fill with blood and dry, before flying for the first time.

12 - Antarctica is the only continent on which no Lepidoptera are found.

13 - Many butterflies can taste with their feet to find out whether the leaf they sit on is good to lay eggs on to be their caterpillars' food or not.

14 - Butterflies often have brightly colored wings with unique patterns made up of tiny scales.

15 - Butterflies attach their eggs to leaves with a special glue.

16 - Representations of butterflies are seen in Egyptian frescoes at Thebes, which are 3,500 years old. 

17 - Most butterflies feed on nectar from flowers.

18 - Scientists thought butterflies were deaf until the first butterfly ears were identified in 1912.

19 - Some butterfly species lay their eggs on only one type of plant.

20 - Butterflies have a long, tube-like tongue called a proboscis that allows them to soak up their food rather than sip it.

21 - Butterfly wings move in a figure “8” motion.

22 - Many adult butterflies never excrete waste – they use up all they eat for energy.

23 - Some butterflies have been seen drinking blood from open wounds on animals.

24 - A group of butterflies is sometimes called a flutter.

25 - The first meal after a caterpillar hatches is usually the shell from which it has just emerged.

26 - Their eyes are made of 6,000 lenses and can see ultraviolet light.

27 - Butterfly wings are clear – the colors and patterns we see are made by the reflection off the tiny scales covering them.

28 - Males drink from mud puddles to extract minerals that aren’t available in flowers. This behavior is known as “puddling.”

29 - Many butterflies are "Polymorphic", and have the ability to blend in with their surroundings.

30 - Butterflies are flying insects with large scaly wings. Like all insects, they have six jointed legs and three body parts: the head, the thorax and the abdomen. The wings are attached to the thorax and they also have a pair of antennae, compound eyes and an exoskeleton.

31 - “Puddle clubs” are groups of butterflies that gather at wet soil to suck up salts and minerals.

32 - Approximately 750 species of butterflies can be found in the U.S.

33 - Most adult butterfly have very short lives: just three to four weeks. However, the entire life cycle of a butterfly can range between 2 and 8 months, depending on the species. Some migratory butterflies, such as the North American Monarch, can live as long as 7 to 8 months in one generation.

34 - It takes a caterpillar 10 to 15 days to evolve into a butterfly, depending on the species.

35 - The word butterfly was first used to describe a butter colored insect, the brimstone butterfly. ‘Butterfly’ eventually came to include all the species and the brimstone acquired its present name which relates to the color of sulfur.

36 - The wings of the butterfly are made of hard tubes covered with thin tissue. The wings are covered with scales, which are like a fine dust.

37 - The scales form bright patterns, sometimes with a hidden ultraviolet pattern to attract mates. The bright colors also act as a deterrent to predators eating them. The scales may also form patterns that help the butterflies to blend into their background to escape predators.

38 - Butterflies have two large eyes, which are made of many, many small parts. These are called ‘compound eyes’.

39 - Color helps the butterfly with their temperature control. Dark colors absorb more heat, than light colors. Some butterflies such as the Blues have a shiny underside to their wing, which can help them reflect heat.

40 - Butterflies are often seen basking with their wings open wide, as they gain heat. They adjust the area exposed to the sun by overlapping their wings or angling them towards the sunshine. The veins located in the wings then carry the heat to the body. 

41 - Butterflies are essentially cold-blooded.

42 - Butterflies cannot fly if their body temperature is less than 86 degrees.

43 - In the ancient Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan, the brilliantly colored image of the butterfly was carved into many temples, buildings, jewelry, and emblazoned on incense burners.

44 - Butterflies are mostly solitary creatures. However, some species migrate in massive numbers.

45 - 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.

46 - Species of butterflies in the Brush -Footed (Nymphalidae)  family use their two front legs for tasting food, and their four rear legs for propulsion.

47 - Butterflies have three pairs of legs. Their feet have little claws to help them stand on flowers. Some butterflies, like the peacock, only use four of their legs, carrying the two.


48 - Butterflies can fly up to 50 miles in a day.

49 - A butterfly rests with wings up and touching, whereas moths rest with wings down and apart.

50 - Painted Lady butterflies are known to fly  4,000 miles from North Africa to Iceland.


51 - A butterfly found only in Nepal, (Paralasa nepalica), lives and flies at an altitude of nearly 15,000 feet.

52 - Most butterflies fly at 5 to 12 miles per hour (8 to 20 kilometers per hour).

53 - Researchers studying the flight of Painted Ladies using high speed cameras reported they flap their wings 20 times per second. 

54 - A butterfly sheds scales throughout its lifetime. Butterflies lose scales just by doing the things butterflies do; nectaring on plants, mating, and flying.

55 - A butterfly cannot regenerate lost scales. On older butterflies, you may notice tiny clear patches on their wings, where scales were shed. If a large section of scales are missing, you can actually see right through the clear membrane of the wing.

56 - Butterflies live in different habitats, including mangroves, salt marshes, lowland forests, sand dunes, wetlands, mountainous regions and grasslands.

57 - Most scientists believe that butterflies do not experience pain.

58 - Birdwing butterflies have body lengths to 3", and wingspans to 11".

59 - Butterflies are considered to be blind because, by human standards, they cannot see fine details. (Poor resolution.) Butterfly resolution is 100 times worse than human's resolution.

60 - After mating, the butterfly has done what it was created for;  . . . continue the species.

       Males will die within 6 - 8 weeks after using up all their sperm with a succession of females. The female will die after she has laid all her eggs; usually between 300 - 400, although one Monarch laid over 1,000 eggs!! 

61 - Adult butterflies do not urinate or defecate. In the larval stage, the caterpillars do all the eating, and defecate almost continually. 

62 - The Brimstone butterfly, (Gonepterix rhamni) has the longest lifespan of any butterfly at 9 - 10 months.

63 - In courtship rituals, butterflies fly in circles around each other in order to find a mate while displaying their colorful wing patterns.

64 - The body of an adult butterfly is divided into head, thorax, and abdomen. They have six legs.


65 - Pollen gets attached to the legs of the butterfly and is carried from plant to plant, assisting in fertilization and the propagation of new seeds and plants.

66 - Butterflies weigh as little as two rose petals!!

67 - Parnassian butterflies have been found high up in the Rocky Mountains, at altitudes of 14,000 feet.

68 - Caterpillars are boneless, but have over 1000 muscles. These muscles help the caterpillar move quickly from place to place.

69 - Butterflies and moths belong to the order Lepidoptera, which is derived from the Greek words "lepidos" and "pteron" that mean scale and wing, respectively.

70 - All butterflies aren't nectar-loving. Some, like the Red Admiral Butterfly, have decidedly peculiar tastes. They like rotting fruit and animal dung. They excrete Meconium, a red liquid (that looks like blood), which is made up of waste material from the pupal stage.

71 - A Swallowtail caterpillar has an osmeterium present immediately behind its head. This is a gland that gets activated when the caterpillar is disturbed, which lets out a foul odor, deterring predators from eating it.

72 - A female butterfly will usually choose to never lay her eggs instead of laying them on the wrong plant.

73 - Certain butterfly species, like the Monarch Butterfly, produce toxins that discourage predators from feeding on them. In the Monarch's case, the toxin production is aided by the milkweed plant on which it usually feeds.

74 - Many male butterflies can be found sipping at the moisture in puddles or wet sand and soil. These butterflies get more than water when they sip! They also benefit from the salts dissolved in this water. It is thought that these salts help increase a male butterfly's fertility.

75 - As adults, butterflies have two basic jobs: to eat and reproduce. 

76 - You might see butterflies with their wings outstretched sitting in a patch of sunlight. They can raise their internal temperature higher than the temperature around them in a way somewhat analogous to how the interior of a car heats up hotter than the air around it on a sunny day. This need to absorb heat from their environment is the reason why so many butterflies have darkly colored bodies.

77 - Johnston's organ (located at the base of the antennae) gives the butterfly its sense of balance. (Especially while flying.)

78 - Most species are diurnal. They fly during the day and close their wings while resting.

79 - Butterflies and moths hear sounds through their wings.

80 - Malpighian tubules are long filaments which clean the blood and put the waste (urine) into the butterfly's hindgut (rectum).

81 - Butterflies have a long, tubular heart (dorsal vessel) and hemocoel.

82 - Butterflies are a valuable source of food for various birds, and thus play an important role in maintaining the ecological balance.

83 - Spiracles (9 pairs in butterflies) are pores open to the air. Tracheae (air tubes) carry air through the body. Gas exchange occurs at the tiny ends of the tracheae. (A very inefficient system which limits the size of butterflies.) Spiracles are located on the abdomen and thorax.

84 - Butterflies are fragile creatures, and their population can either thrive, or be adversely affected by changes in the climatic conditions. Plenty of butterflies indicate a healthy and well-balanced ecosystem, while a dearth can denote a possible environmental problem.

85 - Some butterflies are becoming quite rare as their natural habitats are shrinking. Xerces Blue, a beautiful-looking American butterfly species that was found in the San Francisco Peninsula, became extinct in 1943 due to habitat loss.

86 - As humans continue to expand their urban lands into natural areas, ecosystems are getting disturbed and destroyed. While the effect is evident on larger species of animals, smaller species, such as butterflies, go unnoticed. Many of these gorgeously colored and patterned butterflies are losing their habitat, and their numbers are drastically diminishing by the day.

87 - Overwintering species of larvae avoid freezing by producing glycerol, a kind of antifreeze.

88 - A group of butterflies is called a kaleidoscope.

89 - Butterflies are the second largest group of pollinators, next to bees.

90 - A butterfly that can't drink nectar is doomed. One of its first jobs as an adult butterfly is to assemble its mouthparts. When a new adult emerges from the pupal case or chrysalis, its mouth is in two pieces. Using palpi located adjacent to the proboscis, the butterfly begins working the two parts together to form a single, tubular proboscis. You may see a newly emerged butterfly curling and uncurling the proboscis over and over, testing it out.

91 - The time it takes a caterpillar to evolve into a butterfly is usually between 10 and 15 days depending on the particular specie.

92 - Many butterfly species are polymorphic and have the ability to blend in with their surrounding environment.

93 - The presence or absence of butterflies is a good indicator of an ecosystem's relative health.

94 - As the caterpillar grows, it's skin will split and be molted or shed.

   When the caterpillar has grown several thousand times its original size, it goes into a resting stage. This is when the caterpillar becomes a pupa, or chrysalis (stage 3).

  Finally, the chrysalis breaks open and a butterfly comes out (stage 4). Now the adult butterfly will begin the process all over again by laying eggs of its own.

95 - Female butterflies are usually larger than males and they live longer.

96 - Monarchs are not the only butterfly that migrate. The Painted Lady, American Lady, Red Admiral, Cloudless Sulphur, Skipper, Sachem, Question Mark, Clouded Skipper, Fiery Skipper and Mourning Cloak are other butterflies that also migrate, but not as far as the Monarchs.

97 - Inside the chrysalis, a developing butterfly waits to emerge with its wings collapsed around its body. When it finally breaks free of the pupal case, it greets the world with tiny, shriveled wings. The butterfly must immediately pump body fluid through its wing veins to expand them. Once its wings reach their full size, the butterfly must rest for a few hours to allow its body to dry and harden before it can take its first flight.

98 - At night, or during inclement weather, most butterflies perch on the underside of leaves, crawl deep between blades of grass or into a crevice in rocks, or find some other shelter, and sleep.

 99  - Butterflies don't bite because they can't.

   Caterpillars munch on leaves and eat voraciously with their chewing mouth parts, and some of them do bite if they feel threatened. 

   Once they become butterflies, they only have a long, curled proboscis, which is like a soft drinking straw. (Their jaws are gone.)

100 - The center of a butterfly's nervous system is the sub esophageal ganglion and is located in the insect's thorax, not its head, so it can live even with its head is removed.

101 - Glasswing butterflies are capable of flying while carrying up to

40 x their own body weight.

102 - Monarch caterpillars will grow 2,000 + times in size before they become butterflies !!

103 - Blue Morphos are not actually blue. They have no pigment to make them look blue. Instead, they have scales on their wings that overlap to refract light the way that a prism does. When light hits the wings, it is refracted against the scales, and gives the appearance of blue.

104 - Butterflies, moths and insects have the highest instances of split pattern and coloration (gynandomorphism). Most notable is when each side of the wings has a different color and / or pattern.

105 - Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) that live in Central and South America, the Caribbean, Australia, and even in parts of Europe and New Guinea stay in one place and don't migrate as the North American Monarchs do..

106 - Butterflies have been around for 50 million years, say scientists, so they’re of great ecological value.

107 - Some butterflies, such as the Monarch, can fly at 30 mph or more. Skippers can fly at 37 mph !!

108 Although they become liquid during the metamorphosis stage, the neurons in butterfly brains are still organized allowing them to have a complete recollection of their early days. This is the reason why certain species of butterfly only go to one type of plant, the same plant where they spent their caterpillar days.

109 Butterflies don’t actually sleep. They enter an inactive state where they relax, but do not sleep as such. 

         They relax by hanging down from the leaves to hide from the predators or they will relax in the open if they have warning colors.

110 - The country of Peru has approx. 3,700 species of butterflies, approximately 20% of the world's total species, and potentially another 4,000 as yet unidentified species !! (Far more than any other country.) 

111 -  At emergence from the chrysalis, the butterfly's proboscis is initially formed in two parts, appearing similar to a forked tongue. Almost immediately, two palpi, one on each side of the proboscis, begin working on the dual structure, forming it into a single tube, sometimes 1.5 times the length of the butterfly's body. A few species of butterfly use their proboscises to feed on rotting animal flesh or animal fluids

112 - "Blue is one the rarest colors made as a pigment," notes Ryan Null, a graduate student in Patel's lab. "Most animals can't produce blue pigments." Instead, butterflies use the scales on their wings to refract light, causing the wings to become blue in appearance only.

The biggest threat to butterfly survival is habitat destruction !!

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