Starting this Friday and also next week, this blog will be devoted to one of the most fascinating, attractive and familiar insects in the world. It is, of course, the butterfly. There are between 18,000 to 20,000 named species of butterflies, and more are being identified each year.
Butterflies and moths are closely related. They both belong to the scientific order Lepidoptera, which derives from the Greek words for scale (lepido) and wing (ptera). This comes from the fact that their wings are covered by tiny scales. Only about 10% of the known Lepidoptera are butterflies. Although butterflies get most of the attention, moths are much more common and extremely varied. There are over 220,000 species of moths in the world.
Presque Isle is my favorite area for butterflies other than right in my own backyard where my butterfly garden draws them and hummingbirds all summer long. It is currently estimated that over 73 species of butterflies live or visit Presque Isle each year. The best time to see them on the park is from mid-morning until the late afternoon. Butterflies are sophisticated insects that like warm temperatures and keep very civilized hours, rarely flying before 10 a.m., and settling down late in the afternoon right around 5 p.m.
What is a butterfly?
Butterfly is the common name for a specific type of insect. They are relatively large and eye-catching, and for this reason are familiar to most people. Many cultures throughout the world use them as symbols of such things as love, spring, freedom, or even rebirth and renewal. In some countries, they are considered good luck. In France, a common saying is, “Love is like a butterfly; it goes where it pleases.”
Why are they called butterflies?
The name butterfly had its origin over 700 years ago in an old English glossary. The original word was buterflage. It was a combination of two words “butter” and “fly,” and was used to describe a butter-colored flying thing. Many people believe that the Cabbage Butterfly or the Clouded Yellow Butterfly, which were common all over Europe, may have been the inspiration for the name.
How long does a Butterfly live?
The answer to that question almost always refers to just one stage of the insect’s life, and that is the adult stage. Once the butterfly or moth emerges from the pupa, the adult, depending upon its species, can live from a few days up to a few weeks. During this short life, it eats, pollinates plants, flies around looking beautiful and mates and lays eggs. The diet and environment of a butterfly can have a major effect on its lifespan.
Does a Butterfly have bones?
Unlike us, butterflies, moths and caterpillars do not have bones or any form of a skeleton inside their body. They do have a fairly hard covering on the outside of their body. This is called the exoskeleton. This outer covering is made of a chemical that somewhat hardens when exposed to air when the butterfly emerges from the pupa.
How many legs does a butterfly have?
This is a bit of a complicated question. A caterpillar has eight pairs of legs. The three front legs are attached to the thorax and become the adult butterfly’s legs. The rear sets of five pairs of legs are attached to the caterpillar’s abdomen. When the adult butterfly develops, these legs are discarded.
How does a caterpillar become a butterfly or moth?
All butterflies and moths pass through three life stages after they emerge from the egg. The stages are the caterpillar, the pupa and the
adult. The process is called metamorphosis. Almost all caterpillars are voracious eaters, growing quickly to as much as 1,000 times their birth weight and have six pairs of very simple eyes. Even with all these eyes, their vision is very poor. They are actually just eating machines with legs. Richard Buckminster Fuller, author, engineer and theorist, once said, “There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly”.
What dangers do butterflies face?
Hundreds of thousands of butterflies are killed by cars and trucks each year as they swarm along highways in warm weather. Both butterflies and moths in both the caterpillar and adult stage are food for birds. Many other insects plus mice, frogs and toads and even some monkeys in India dine on all forms of butterflies and moths. In addition, drought, winds, fire, floods, pollution and viruses also take an appalling toil on them.
What is the difference between a butterfly and a moth?
Yes, they are closely related, so are very similar. Yet, most people think that moths fly at night and butterflies during the day, moths are small and butterflies much larger, and moths are dull in color and butterflies colorful. While somewhat true, some moths are actually very large and incredibly colorful, and some butterflies are tiny and dreary in color. Also, there are many moths that are active in the daytime.
The best way to tell the difference is to look at their antennae. Almost all butterfly antennae are straight and slightly thicker at the tip. Many moths have antennae that are feathery or bristle-like and come to a point at the tip. Other moths have a hook or curve at the end of the antennae. Even today, there are arguments between experts as to which are which among the various species.
What is a skipper?
A skipper is a type of butterfly. Normally, a typical skipper has a hairy, stocky or thick body and small wings. Some have a smaller head and hooked-tip antennae. Currently, there are nearly 3,500 species of skippers. They have a habit of darting back and forth during flight. Many experts consider the skipper a moth, and just as many hold that it is a butterfly.
Are there any tips for photographing butterflies?
The new digital cameras make capturing good butterfly pictures much easier than in the past. Presque Isle is an excellent place to try your luck. While you might get a few good shots with a simple digital camera, a digital DSLR will give you the best results. They are available in all price ranges.
Since butterflies are small, a good macro lens will most likely be necessary. The best butterfly photos should nearly fill the frame and produce a life-size image. I have found that even on a fairly bright day, a flash can be helpful to freeze the action by using a very fast shutter speed. Last of all, if you want to improve your images and focus, you need to get parallel with your beautiful subject. Remember, butterflies prefer warm, sunny conditions, and you will find many more of them fluttering around during the middle part of the day.
As more and more of our beautiful friends begin showing themselves, pick up your camera and see what you can do. Remember, Presque Isle is an excellent place to give it a try. See you on the park!!
This post was written by admin