Magic Wings Butterfly House | Butterflies
Butterflies are beautiful. And yes, they are insects.
Butterflies belong to the order Lepidoptera (Greek for “scaly wings”) and are found from the arctic tundra to the tropics, from the Alps to the coastal swamps. Numbering about 170,000 species, Lepidoptera are important in nature’s life cycle, feeding on the juice of overripe fruit or sweet nectar from flowering plants. They also take nutrients from mud, dung, dead animals and even sweat. Butterflies distribute pollen, helping to create the next generation of plants. They also serve as choice food for winged predators, songbirds, and spiders. But their beauty is fleeting — most live only two to four weeks as adults.
Butterflies share a basic body plan with other insects. They have three main body parts: the head, thorax and abdomen, plus a pair of antennae and six legs. They don’t have any internal bones. Instead, an exoskeleton gives them structure. Butterflies also have four wings that they hold together at rest (moths spread out their wings on either side of their bodies).
Butterflies have microscopic, colorful wing scales that can leave a fine dust on your fingers. A Blue Morpho has over 90,000 scales on a single wing. “A butterfly’s scales are the single most complex structures made by a cell in any animal,” says Dr. Fred Nijhout in Duke Magazine. Chairman of Duke University’s department of zoology, Dr. Nijhout is particularly fascinated with butterflies. “My main interest is really to try to work out how a patterning system evolved — not only how a specific pattern evolved, but how you get a system that is so flexible, developmentally and evolutionarily, that butterflies have become among the most diverse species on earth. I think it's one of the best puzzles around.” Dr. Nijhout’s research shows that the reds, yellows and browns of butterfly wings are made by the animals. Yet some whites and yellows actually come from the plants they feed upon.
Butterflies are tiny solar collectors. They hold a body temperature of 85-100 degrees F, relying on the sun to warm their spineless bodies and heat their wings before they fly. On cloudy days, they lie low under leaves or hide in grasses.