The World Of Butterflies

The Life Cycle Of Butterflies And Their Families They Fall Under

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

What is a Butterfly?

     A butterfly is a member of the Lepidoptera family which refers to tiny scales covering the insects wings. There are over 20,000 species of butterflies varying in color and structure. As a member of the Lepidoptera family there are many characteristics that separates butterflies from other Lepidoptera—such as they mostly fly by day, they have overlapping wings instead of them being hooked together, and their antenna is the same for both sexes usually thicker towards the tips. On the other hand moths usually fly at night, their wings are directly connected together unlike the butterflies that are not hooked together, and males usually have larger or thicker antennas. The oldest record of a butterfly dates all the way back to 135 million years ago from an amber deposit. 

Life Cycle of a Butterfly

Egg Form

     Around May, a butterfly will lay her eggs in a sunny spot under a leaf. In a cluster of 100 or more eggs they wait for a week’s time, by then they are 0.8 mm and will start to turn yellow and then darken. Around 7-21 days if conditions are good the larva will use their jaws to chew through the top of the hard shell but does not eat the egg shell. Through this stage the larva will eat on bacteria or other microorganisms.

Larva on a leaf, courtesy of Google Images

Ecdysis Stages

     As the caterpillar develops, the skin does not grow with it, but it does stretch out to enlarge the body within. When the stretch capacity reaches its limit hormones are released to prepare the caterpillar for a crucial event. A new exoskeleton will start to form underneath the old one. When the time comes to get rid of the old exoskeleton the caterpillar will stop feeding, and the old skin will start to split open. The new exoskeleton is soft. Before the skin has time to harden it must inflate giving it the potential to stretch even farther but it still has a limit. The caterpillar continues to feed regularly until the process needs to be repeated. This process is called ecdysis and is repeated four times. Some caterpillars repeat this process five times but very few will repeat it nine times.

Courtesy of Google Images
Courtesy of Google Images








Final Stage

Courtesy of Google Images

     During the final stage the caterpillar goes through metamorphosis. The caterpillar will make a cocoon to fully develop as a butterfly that lasts five to twenty one days depending on the species of moth or butterfly. During the development of the butterfly the original cell, the fertilized egg, is divided into two daughter cells then it’s divided again into four, then again until the process produces over 16,000,000 cells. Each time the cell is multiplied the cell becomes more specialized for particular functions. These cells can be for liver cells, heart muscle cells, brain cells, hair follicle cells, and much more. Once the cycle for metamorphosis is complete the butterfly will emerge, the pupal case will split open and the butterfly is free at last. But because the wings are still limp and wet the butterfly will take a few minutes to expand their wings allowing them to dry.


     When mating the mates will find each other first. Then the female must determine if the male is suitable for her satisfaction. When finding a mate a huge problem they have to overcome is the location. Usually they will meet at a small hill. Male butterflies usually fly close around there during mating season. The male will then go to investigate the new butterfly to see if it’s a rival or a potential mate. If the male and female are the same species the female will fly off without signaling acceptance of the male, to prove the male is worthy. The female will keep flying until the male succeeds and is accepted or rejects him. Once she accepts they will mate, then the female must start laying her eggs underneath a leaf of a plant. While she does that the male will look for other mates. 


     Caterpillars have very strong jaws to be able to eat leaves. Each caterpillar has a different jaw depending on what they can eat. A factor of what their jaws have to go through is the texture of the leaf such as hard, soft, and the quality like sticky, prickly, sharp. There are 300,000 different plants that caterpillars can eat when divided into their categories of families. After metamorphosis a butterfly does not have jaws like their previous form before. They now have a proboscis, a straw-like structure. This allows them to drink liquids and small particles extracted from flowers instead of crunchy crisp leaves.

Courtesy of Google Images
Courtesy of Google Images










     The size and shape of the butterfly’s wings are determined by the wing size, which then determines the speed of the butterfly. Some butterflies use their wings as an advantage if they are not fast enough to fly. When a predator is near some butterflies camouflage into their surroundings to survive or they use their wings by creating an illusion to confuse the predator with odd colors and patterns in the wings. If you have ever touched a butterfly wing and have gotten powder on your fingers then that is actually tiny scales taken from the wing. These scales help the flight run smoothly by having air circling around the upper surface of the wing to allow butterflies to have broader strokes. 

Courtesy of Google Images
Courtesy of Google Images

Butterfly Families

     There are four main types of butterfly families. There is Papilionidae, their characteristics are long tails, they usually have colorful wings and are large . They are also called swallowtails because they have long tails on their hind wings. These butterflies are found worldwide except in the arctic. A pieridae is usually yellow, white and orange in color, they don’t have tails, and are often found in tropical climates. A nymphalidae is the largest family of butterflies with over 5,000 species. They have basic and colorful wing colors. And the last family is lycaenidae, they have vibrantly colored butterflies. Some colors include metallic blue, green and copper. Males usually have shorter legs on the anterior.

Some species of butterflies from the four families:

Papilionide Family

Ornithoptera                                                                                                                             Papilio Glaucus

This butterfly is located in the Obi islands, Indonesia. Their color shows a rich velvet blue with a contrasting bright yellow abdomen. Its size is around 2 ⅜ inches. Courtesy of Google Images
Papilio Glaucus
The Papilio Glaucus, also referred to as the tiger swallowtail, is located in Canada and the United states. This butterfly was the first pictured American insect in Europe. Its size is around 3-5 ½ inches. Courtesy of Google Images










                                                                             Papilio Glaucus

Courtesy of Google Images


Pieridae Family

Appias Placida                                                                                                     Pareronia Valeria Hippia

Located in Asia is the Appias butterfly. They are extremely strong flier. Their habitat is near rain forests and clearings. Their color is a deep dark orange with brown and black as an accent. Courtesy of Google Images
The pareronia is also called the wanderer. Around 1 ½ -2 inches in size, this butterfly is located in Asian region. This butterfly prefers florists with rain falls and flowers. Courtesy of Google Images











Nymphalidae Family

Anaea Andria                                                                                                                  Araschnia Levana

Also known as the Goatweed Butterfly, when handled they often play dead. They use this behavior when they feel threatened and also to escape predators. The size is around 3 inches, and is located near West Virginia to Kansas, and Texas to Florida. Courtesy of Google Images
Located in Europe and Asia this butterfly is also known as the Map Butterfly because of its map-like shape on the underside of the wings. It’s 1 ½ inches tall and likes shady places for their larvae. Females lay their eggs in chains underneath needle-like leaves. Courtesy of Google Images











                                                                 Araschnia Levana

Courtesy of Google Images


Lycaenidae Family

Arcas Imperialis                                                                                                      Callophrys Dumetorum

The Arcas is a unique butterfly because of its wing shape. There is very little known about this butterfly, and it is not a protected species. The size is only 1 ½ inches wide. With its turquoise-green underside it can also have an iridescent blue tint to the wings. Courtesy of Google Images
Also known as the Jamaican Green Hairstreak, their size is 1 ½ inches, and is located in Jamaica. Their life cycle is not very known and is not protected. Males the upper side of a male is bright blue but the females are more dull. Courtesy of Google Images












                                                                       Callophrys Dumetorum

Courtesy of Google Images