March 14th has officially been designated Learn About Butterflies Day. We’re not exactly sure who named it, but hey, who are we to argue? Might as well learn about some butterflies, right? Thankfully, you’re in the right place. Here are some things about butterflies that you may not have known…
- Butterfliesare members of the insect order Lepidoptera, which also includes moths. Both have similarly shaped bodies with scaled wings, and in fact Lepidoptera means “scaled wing” in Greek. So, what separates the two? You may think it has to do with coloration: butterflies are brightly colored, while moths are more drab. Although this is often the case, there are some vibrant moths out there, and some pretty dull butterflies. Their antennae are quite different though: butterflies have thin antenna with a larger, rounded tip, whereas moths have more feathery antenna. Butterflies also rest with their wings upright behind them, while moths fold their wings around their body. You’re also more likely to see butterflies during the day, with moths being more active at night.
- No one is absolutely sure where the name “butterfly” comes from, since the word has been around for hundreds of years and nobody bothered to write down why they decided to name an insect after a condiment. Though they are flying insects, they aren’t closely related to flies, and they have nothing to do with butter. One theory states that back in the olden days, witches were believed to take the form of butterflies to steal milk and butter. Another belief is that the name was originally “flutter by” but the letters got switched around over time, which sounds funny, but whether or not it’s true is anyone’s guess. There’s also some suspicion that the name comes from the yellow coloration of butterflies like the common brimstone. The real reason that these graceful and beautiful insects were named after what is basically yellow milkfat has, sadly, been lost to history.
- Butterflies have a complex life cycle. They are hatched from eggs as pudgy worm-like caterpillars, and spend most of their early life munching on plants to save up energy before they undergo “metamorphosis”. During this process, the caterpillar creates a “chrysalis” around its body, which is sort of like a protective sleeping bag. While these are often called “cocoons”, that term actually refers to the silk-covered casing created by a moth caterpillar. While inside the chrysalis, the butterfly undergoes massive changes to its body before eventually emerging as a fully formed butterfly.
|Life Cycle of a Monarch Butterfly||Butterflies Good Luck Minis|
- The monarch butterfly undergoes one of the longest migrations of any species. Each fall they migrate from Canada south to Mexico. So, if you’re having trouble getting out of bed to go to school or work, remember: at least you’re not a monarch butterfly with a 3000 mile journey ahead of you. After staying the winter in toasty Mexico, they begin to fly northward, back toward home. However, these butterflies are at the end stages of their life. The total journey back to Canada will be undertaken by their children, and their children’s children, and sometimes several future generations will be born before the trip is completed. Monarch butterflies usually live for around 6 to 8 weeks, but in the fall, a so-called “super generation” is able to survive for around 8 months to be able to make the trip south to Mexico.
- The first butterfly fossils known date back to around 55 million years ago, or about 10 million years after the extinction of non-bird dinosaurs. Moths evolved much earlier, almost 200 million years ago during the Jurassic Period. It’s believed that butterflies evolved directly from moths, and today there are estimated to be almost 15,000 species of butterflies. No one is really sure how many, since new species are being discovered still being discovered and many are still waiting to be formally described.
- The largest butterfly in the world is the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing. While it’s not the flashiest butterfly, with mostly brownish coloration in the females, it more that makes up for it with its impressive size: it’s wingspan is nearly 10 inches long! The males have much more vibrant iridescent green wings, but don’t grow anywhere near as large. Sadly, this species is endangered, being found only in the coastal rainforests of Papua New Guinea, where it is threatened by deforestation and habitat loss. It is also highly valuable to butterfly collectors due to its size and rarity, and butterfly smugglers (which are a real thing, apparently) illegally selling specimens can fetch up to $8,500 for a single specimen.
- Some species of butterfly feature a unique adaptation called “eyespots”. These are large spots on the insect’s wings that resemble the eyes of a much larger animal. Displaying these eyespots is believed to confuse or scare predators by making the butterfly appear to be a bigger, scarier animal. Other butterfly species have areas on their wings that look like their own head, to trick predators into trying attack the insect from the wrong direction, while the butterfly makes its escape.
Whew! Hopefully now you can honestly say you have fulfilled the day’s obligation, and have officially Learned About Butterflies™. Now go out and share the knowledge with someone else!