There are few things in nature more beautiful than a butterfly.
But how did such an odd name come to such a beautiful creature? What types of butterflies are there? And how do they live?
There are a lot of things many of us don't know about butterflies. So don your khakis and grab your binoculars and go exploring the world of the butterfly.
What's in a name?
The name butterfly goes back to the Old English (English from the 500s to the 1000s AD) word butorflēoge, which means butterfly. There are some theories on how the name came to be:
One theory is that the name came because of the yellow butterfly, also known as the common brimstone, that looks like butter.
It was once thought these insects stole people's milk.
Some thought witches would fly in as a butterfly and steal butter.
Like a lot of words, the exact original meaning is lost in the mists of time.
The game of life
Life for a butterfly begins as an egg laid on a leaf. A mother butterfly will usually lay hundreds of eggs at a time. The eggs last for a few weeks, generally being laid in the winter and hatching in the spring. Of all these eggs that are laid, usually only a few make it to adulthood.
A butterfly egg hatches into a larva (a baby insect), a caterpillar.
There are a lot of different caterpillars, depending on the type of butterfly. Some examples:
The lycaenid caterpillar works with ants; the ants provide protection, and the caterpillar helps provide food for the ant.
The hawkmoth caterpillar looks just like a leaf camouflage itself.
Whatever the type, the job of a caterpillar is to eat all the leaves possible and survive until it can be big enough to form a cocoon, called a chrysalis, and change into an adult butterfly. The process is both fascinating and disgusting.
The caterpillar wiggles and breaks out of its skin. The skin drys, hardens, and becomes the chrysalis.
While in the chrysalis, the caterpillar actually digests its own organs.
It then reforms its body, this time as an adult butterfly.
Who'd have thought that a bug with such a disgusting part of its life could turn into such beautiful creatures?
Some types of butterflies
There are thousands of different types of butterflies, over 700 in North America alone. There is no way one can go over all of them in this blog, but here is a brief gallery of some of them.
A butterfly of England, it gets its name from being seen around the flowers at gates.
It is so named for its spots. These confuse those animals who would want to make a lunch out of it. It works by making the butterfly look like a giant insect with big eyes.
A butterfly of Mexico, its name comes from how it changes appearance. When its wings are closed, they look brown with spots. When they open, the butterfly “morphs” or changes into a beautiful blue color.
The blue morpho butterfly, first with wings closed, then opened.
There's no need to explain where this butterfly gets its name comes from. The stripes say it all. It is found around the southern United States and Mexico.
Queen Alexandra's birdwing
A long, strange name for a butterfly, to be sure, but it is also the largest type of butterfly. The females have a wingspan of 10 inches (almost whole foot)!
As beautiful as it is, it is also very rare. If you want to find one, you are in for a quest as it only lives in Papua New Guinea and is currently endangered.
From the large, we go to the small. The Small heath is the smallest butterfly, with a wingspan of only 1½ inches wide.
Photo of Small heath by David Fenwick.
Is it a moth?
Butterflies and moths are so very similar in many ways, but how are they different? Here are some differences:
Butterflies are usually active in the daytime, moths at typically active at night.
When sitting at rest, butterflies fold their wings together, while moths keep them folded out.
Butterflies form a hard cocoon. Moth cocoons are made of silk.
The antennae of butterflies are described as thin, with a club-shaped tip. Moth's antennae are more comb-like.
There is a lot to learn about butterflies. There are, after all, so many different types. But all that being said, one should never lose sight of the sheer amount of beauty and peace they give to the world. That is something just as significant as the science and study of them.
On the web
30 Various Kinds of Beautiful Butterflies (with Pictures)
This site highlights 30 different species of butterflies with pictures and a brief description.
World's Largest Butterfly the Queen Alexandra's Birdwing
A short video of a Queen Alexandra's Birdwing.
What’s Inside A Caterpillar 'Cocoon?'
A video describing what goes on as a caterpillar turns into a butterfly.
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