Introduction to Butterflies and Moths
Butterflies and moths are insects with two pairs of wings that are partly or wholly covered with tiny overlapping scales. When brushed against an object, the scales easily come off, resembling powder. These insects vary widely in size: the gilded moth has a wingspan of 1/8 inch (3 mm), while the atlas moth of India has a wingspan of about 12 inches (30 cm). There are tens of thousands of species of butterflies and moths—estimates up to 165,000 have been made by authorities; there are about ten times more species of moths than of butterflies in North America.Butterflies represent nearly every color and pattern.
The chief differences between butterflies and moths are the shape of their bodies, the structure of their antennae (feelers), and the way in which their fore (front) and hind wings are held together to act as a single unit. A butterfly's body is generally more slender than a moth's. Most butterflies' antennae end in a clublike knob while most moths' antennae are threadlike or feathery. Most butterflies are active during the day and hold their wings vertically while at rest. Most moths, on the other hand, fly at dusk or night and, when at rest, hold their wings over the body.
Butterflies and moths form the order Lepidoptera of the class Insecta. There is disagreement among biologists regarding the classification of the families and species within this order. The classification given in this article, under the subtitles Kinds of Butterflies and Kinds of Moths, is widely accepted.
South America is home to thousands of kinds of butterflies. The steamy rain forests near the Amazon River provide good homes for them.
One of the biggest, brightest blue butterflies in the world lives in South America. It is the blue morpho butterfly. When the blue morpho opens its wings, they may be over 5 inches (about 13 centimeters) across. The blue morpho lives in rain forests from Venezuela to Brazil.
Another beautiful South American butterfly is the esmeralda. The wings of this butterfly are almost completely transparent, like glass. Only on the bottom edge of the back pair of wings is there any color. Bunches of scales in those places make small splashes of pink.
The 88 butterfly of South America is quite unusual. It has markings on the underside of its wings that clearly form a number. Guess what the number is!
Of course they do! Africa has some of the world’s most unusual and beautiful butterflies. The best homes for many kinds of butterflies are the jungles in western and central Africa.
Some of the world’s reddest butterflies live in Africa. These red butterflies, known as the Cymothoes (sye MOE thoez), live mainly in the rain forests of central Africa. Perhaps the brightest of these butterflies is the red glider.
The jungles of central Africa also are home to one of the world’s largest butterflies. It is the African giant swallowtail. This huge swallowtail has very large upper wings. The span of an African giant swallowtail’s wings can be as much as 10 inches (25 centimeters) across.
Yes, many butterflies live in wetter regions in northern and eastern Australia. Much of the land in middle and western Australia is desert. Few butterflies live in these very dry areas.
A close relative of North America’s monarch butterfly lives in northern and eastern Australia. It is called the common crow. Like the monarch, this butterfly lays its eggs on milkweed plants. Also like the monarch, the caterpillar of this butterfly eats milkweed.
One of Australia’s biggest and most colorful butterflies is the Cairns birdwing. This butterfly has a long, yellow body and big, richly colored wings. The wings of the female, when open, may stretch 5 inches (13 centimeters) across.
Many kinds of butterflies live in Europe. European countries have some of the same kinds of butterflies as those found in North America. The painted lady, cabbage white, and red admiral live in both Europe and North America. Europe also has skippers, wood nymphs, and swallowtails that are very similar to those found in North America.
One of the most unusual butterflies of Europe is the peacock. This butterfly has four huge eyespots, one on each wing. The eyespots frighten predators when the butterfly opens its wings.
An especially beautiful European butterfly is the Adonis blue. It is common in England and also lives throughout continental Europe. The male of this butterfly has brilliant blue wings with crisp, white edges on its upper side. The females are brown. The butterfly is named for Adonis, a beautiful young man from a myth told in Ancient Greece.
Butterflies live in most parts of Asia. In the tropical lands of Southeast Asia, there are many kinds of butterflies.
Southeast Asia is home to large, colorful swallowtails. Many of these swallowtails have skinny back wings with uneven edges. This type of lower wing is sometimes called a “clubtail.”
The orange albatross is another attractive butterfly found in Southeast Asia. This butterfly’s wings are almost solid orange.
The Japanese emperor butterfly is the national butterfly of Japan. Its wings are mostly purplish-blue with many small white spots and a pink spot at the tip of each back wing. This beautiful butterfly also lives in China.