Butterflies are widely recognised as symbols of beauty and purity. They are classed under the order Lepidoptera, which includes moths. Apart from their visual appeal, there is more to learn from butterflies. Memorizing a few butterfly facts will boost your knowledge of these beautiful insects.
Many cultures and religions attach a deep significance to butterflies. For instance, in some cultures, one landing on you means a dead loved one is watching over you. Some native American tribes consider them a symbol of hope, change, and transformation.
Why are butterflies called butterflies? Nobody knows for sure where these insects got their name. However, one theory suggests that the name is derived from the Dutch term “boterschijte”, which means ‘butter excrement’. In this theory, they were named so because of their excretions' yellow, butter-like colour.
General butterfly facts for adults
Despite the odd origins of their names, these insects are sometimes considered a medium of communion with gods and goddesses. Yet, even without the mysticism, these general butterfly facts are remarkable:
- There are over 20,000 species worldwide.
- What is a group of butterflies called? A group of butterflies is known as a ‘kaleidoscope’. Other terms used are ‘rabble’, ‘flutter’ and ‘swarm’.
- These insects sleep at night. They sleep hanging upside down on tree twigs and leaves. They also hide under leaves and between blades of grass and rocks to hide from predators as they rest.
- They are made of the same material as the shells of crabs and shrimp. This polymer, called chitin, is made of proteins and carbohydrates.
- They fly at a maximum speed of 12 miles per hour.
- How many legs does a butterfly have? Like all other insects, they have six legs attached to their thorax.
- They have compound eyes, so their field of view is 360°.
- They are short-sighted. They can only see clearly within 10 to 12 feet. Beyond that, their vision gets blurry.
- There are two antennae on their heads which they use to smell.
Interesting life facts about butterflies
Many people attach spiritual meaning to these insects. Because of how vibrant and diverse they are, these insects always seem to be saying something to onlookers. Whether you believe in these spiritual implications or not, here are some facts about these insects’ lives that you may not know:
- Their life cycle has four stages. Egg - larva (caterpillar) - chrysalis - adult.
- Do all caterpillars turn into butterflies? No, not all caterpillars turn into butterflies. Many caterpillars do not survive the larval stage, and some of those that survive turn into moths.
- Because of how much they eat, caterpillars can double their size in one day!
- Once a caterpillar has gathered enough energy and nutrients, it hangs on a twig and enters the chrysalis stage.
- How long do butterflies live? A butterfly’s lifespan depends on its species. Some species can live as long as nine months to a year. However, the average lifespan of most species is two to four weeks.
- They assemble their proboscis (feeding tube). A new adult butterfly has a proboscis in two disjointed pieces. The adult insect's priority upon emerging from the chrysalis is to join these pieces into a functional tube.
- They reproduce by laying eggs.
- They can’t fly for the first few hours after they emerge from the chrysalis stage. When they emerge, their wings are tiny and shrivelled. The insect must pump body fluid into the wings to expand, then rest for a few hours to let their bodies dry and harden.
Cute butterfly facts for kids to enjoy
Though they may be fun to look at and chase around, there is more to these insects than meets the eye. Here are some cute butterfly facts for kids:
- Both butterflies and moths are colourful. For a while, moths were thought to have dull wings, while the former had bright ones. However, this is not factual.
- They have four wings. Although images make them look like they have two wings, they have two overlapping wings on either side.
- Their wings are transparent. Their wings have scales that reflect certain wavelengths of light, making them look coloured.
- Their eyes can perceive more colours than the human eye. This is useful because they use colour to identify plants and flowers for their food.
- They use their colours to attract mates.
Strange facts about butterflies’ feeding habits
No other insect has inspired cute quotes as much as butterflies have. But these cute insects have strange eating habits. Here are some surprising facts about butterflies and how they feed:
- What do butterflies eat? They mostly feed on nectar from flowers. They can also eat fruit, vegetables and herbs.
- Do butterflies bite? No, they do not bite. They have a long, soft straw-like structure called a proboscis for feeding. As such, they are unable to bite.
- Since they cannot chew, their diet is purely liquid, which they draw through their straw-like proboscis.
- Their ‘taste buds’ are on their feet. They select the tastiest and most nutritious flowers by landing on them to let their feet have a taste.
- They eat faeces, dirt and turtle tears. Since their floral diet lacks sodium, they obtain this nutrient from unconventional sources.
- In their larval stage, the caterpillar has one main job – to eat. This is how they gather enough energy to last through the chrysalis stage.
Important butterfly facts
Apart from their visual appeal, these insects play an important role in the global ecosystem. Here are some facts about butterflies and how they interact with their environment:
- Where do butterflies live? They are found in almost every habitat, from tropical forests to deserts. They are also found in all continents except Antarctica.
- There are no Lepidoptera in Antarctica. These insects thrive in warm weather and are very versatile. They are therefore found in almost every type of habitat worldwide. However, Antarctica is too cold for them to survive; thus, it’s the only continent with no Lepidoptera.
- Many die when it’s cold. Extreme winter temperatures render some species immobile, so they die of cold and starvation.
- The smallest butterfly is the Western Blue Pigmy, which is only 2 centimetres across.
- When temperatures drop, other species migrate for sunshine and warmth.
- They can fly long distances for sunlight and warmth. Monarch butterflies, for instance, fly 3,000 miles from Canada and the northern US to Mexico.
- Their predators include insects like ants and wasps, birds, reptiles like lizards and snakes, and some mammals like monkeys.
- Their closest relative is the moth. The key difference between the two is that butterflies are most active during the day, while moths are active at night.
- Some cultures and traditions around the world eat these insects. However, only specific species are edible.
- Some species are poisonous. For instance, Monarch butterflies feed on milkweed, which makes them poisonous, protecting them from predators as they migrate.
- They use their wings to ward off predators. Some species can camouflage with their environment to hide from predators. Alternatively, some non-poisonous species change their wing colour to resemble those of poisonous species to seem unappealing to predators.
- They are the primary pollinators of cotton plants. Technically, the global cotton industry owes everything to these bright and colourful insects.
Butterflies are found in all environments worldwide except Antarctica. Different cultures attach special significance to them. However, many butterfly facts are fascinating even to those who don’t believe in spiritual elements.
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