In the fascinating world of animals, butterflies are a widely beloved species. Their delicate beauty sets them apart from other insects, more often evoking the feeling of admiration rather than scientific interest. But there is more to them than meets the eye, as these creatures are loaded with remarkable facts.
Butterflies have long become a symbol of transformation due to the process of metamorphosis. It’s the most intriguing part of a butterfly’s life journey that starts with an egg, and ends with the wings we love to see. The egg hatches into a caterpillar that proceeds to eat 27,000 times its body weight to get ready for the next stage. A caterpillar then confines itself in a chrysalis and literally dissolves, breaking down its body tissue before it morphs into a butterfly in about 10-15 days, depending on the species.
A butterfly emerges, dries its wings, and goes on with its short life (on average, four weeks), eating and mating. These insects consume only liquid food with their straw-like mouth called proboscis, which curls into a spiral when not in use. Interestingly, butterflies transform every bit of food they ingest into energy, producing zero waste in their entire lifetime.
While the proboscis extracts nectar from flowers, it barely has the ability to taste food. Instead, butterflies’ taste receptors are located in their feet. Has a butterfly ever landed on your hand? Don’t immediately assume it’s because you’re special. It’s simply hungry and is attracted to salt on your skin. The insects need more minerals than flower nectar can provide, and they can often be seen sucking up sodium from wet soil and puddles. Groups doing so are called (are you ready?..) puddle clubs. Males then pass all these nutrients to females during mating.
As a matter of fact, the name for a group of butterflies depends on what they’re busy with at the moment. When in flight, it’s called a flutter, a flight, or a kaleidoscope. When they rest together, they’re referred to as a roost. Finally, a group of caterpillars is called an army. There, I just gave you material for a nightmare.
Butterflies’ compound eyes are designed to see up to nine colours, including ultraviolet light that helps them to detect nectar-rich flowers. You can make it easier for butterflies to find food by planting flowers in large groups of single colors.
Talking about colours, while butterflies’ wings have some pigment, the myriad of iridescent hues and patterns we see are created by light, reflecting from thousands of tiny protein scales that the wings are made up of, in the process called interference. A simple example of this would be a soap bubble that reflects a spectrum of colours when illuminated.
Their wings play a major role in thermoregulation necessary to maintain the insects’ body temperature. Butterflies are actually cold-blooded, and need the minimum temperature of 30°C to be able to fly. This is why they always soak in the sun.
There are almost 20,000 butterfly species (and over 160,000 moths), which can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Interestingly, about 20% of the population lives in Colombia, where there are 3,600 species and over 2,000 subspecies.
Most butterflies spend their life in the same habitat, not venturing far from their host plants. But for some, like monarchs, their lifecycle takes them across continents. Monarchs fly and lay eggs approximately 4,500 km away from where they hatched. One of the most captivating migrations on earth, it’s still somewhat of a scientific mystery.
Other than catching your eye, butterflies are indispensable contributors to healthy ecosystems, helping the reproduction of numerous plant species, being second in this important job only to bees. They also help to pollinate billions of dollars’ worth of crops annually.
Butterflies are an important part of this world – let’s respect them and ensure their survival by protecting their habitats.
By: Anna Aráoz