Butterfly Facts

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  • Butterflies belong to the group of insects called lepidoptera, meaning wings covered with scales. Like all insects, butterflies have three body parts (head, thorax, and abdomen), two antennae, and six legs.
  • Butterflies have four stages of life: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly. This process of great physical change is called metamorphosis.
  • After mating with their male counterparts, female butterflies lay eggs (oviposit) on hostplants specific to their species. Caterpillars (larva) hatch from the eggs, eat the hostplant, and molt (shed their skins much like a snake) as they grow. When full grown, the caterpillars attach themselves to some object (a leave, twig, etc.) by spinning silk (much like spiders use in making a web) and shed their last skin. The chrysalis (pupa) is underneath. After nature takes its course, a beautiful butterfly emerges from the chrysalis to start this life cycle over.
  • Butterflies feed with a "drinking straw" like mouth called a proboscis, which is kept coiled under the head when not in use. Most butterflies feed on nectar from flowers, but many butterflies feed on other liquids including rotting fruit juices and tree sap.
  • Butterflies taste and smell using their antennae, their proboscis, and even their legs and feet. Females make use of these senses to locate the right hostplant(s) on which to lay their eggs.
  • Unless eaten by predators (birds, spiders, e.g.), most butterflies can live about two to four weeks. However, some butterflies either migrate to warmer climates (monarchs, e.g.) or hibernate through the winter (mourning cloaks, e.g.) and may live eight months or longer.
  • Butterflies rely on sunlight to warm their bodies. They cannot fly when they are cold. During bad weather and at night, butterflies usually hang from the under sides of leaves or crawl under rocks.
  • The colors of butterflies' wings help in many ways: dark colors soak up warmth from the sun; bright colors warn birds and other enemies that certain butterflies are poisonous; drab, dull colors act as camouflage, hiding them from enemies; colors also help butterflies find the right mate.
  • Worldwide, butterflies range in size from ½ inch to 12 inches.
  • After bees, butterflies are the second largest group of pollinators, helping flowers to bloom and fruits to grow.
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