Saturday, March 12, 2011


"A World for Butterflies: their lives, behavior and future" by Phil Schappert, a Lepidopterist (i.e. butterfly biologist) at University of Texas, has five chapters: 1. Why butterflies?, 2. Butterflies of the World, 3, A world of Butterflies, 4. A butterfly's world, 5. A world for butterflies? It has over 300 pictures of butterflies and is an excellent read for butterfly lovers.

Butterflies endear me with their bright colors, beautiful patterns and fluttering wings, but I really knew little about them. This book helped me to know them a lot more in a fascinating fashion. This post is composed from notes I took from reading the book.

Butterfly - general facts

Butterfly is an insect! It has a 3 part body (head, thorax and abdomen), 3 pairs of joint legs, and compound eyes and a pair of antennae.

It is a close relative of moth. Main differences between a butterfly and a moth include - butterfly is diurnal - flying during the day and moth is nocturnal - flying at night; butterfly has "clubbed" antennae -each antenna ends like a knob, moth has saw edge antennae that tapper to a point.

Butterfly's main food is nectar from flowers. So they help pollinate plants, just like bees do.

Butterflies' life span is usually short, typically in weeks, but there are species of butterflies that live up to a year.

There are over 18,000 species of butterflies. They are all over the world, except Antarctica.

(an owl butterfly, picture downloaded from )

Butterfly Life Cycle

Butterfly's life cycle has 4 stages: eggs, caterpillars, chrysalis and butterfly.

Eggs - a female butterfly lays egg(s) on a host plant. The egg is fertilized as it is laid. During copulation, male butterfly deposit spermatophore, which contains sperm, salt and nutrients, to the female. The female will inject the sperm through a small opening on top of a egg.

As egg ages, larva growing inside. The larva eats the inside of the egg as it grows. Right before the egg hatches, the eggshell is almost transparent.

Caterpillar - When an egg is hatched, a Caterpillar emerges from the egg Shell. Caterpillar is essentially an eating machine - eat, defecate and grow. It has a limited expandability of the exoskeleton, so it grows in the form of molts, or shedding skins to become bigger.

Chrysalis -it is essentially the final stage of the Caterpillar molting stage - in this stage the Caterpillar weave silk case to cover itself. The metamorphosis, change of shape and appearance, of the caterpillar into a butterfly. During this process, a caterpillars body is slowly taken apart, "at the same time, imaginal disks, regions of previously undifferentiated cells that act as organizing centers of the adult tissues, begin to directing the assembly of the butterfly body..."

The metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly, is a wonder of life.

Butterfly -it is a stage for reproduction. Some Lepidopterist called butterflies " flying sex organs". Two phases of a butterfly's life are particularly amazing. The time right after its eclosure and the time of courtship and mating.

At eclosure, a butterfly is very small and shrunken because its wings are still wet and not expanded. Before the butterfly can fly, it will first pump body fluid through its veins to expand it wings, and them displace the fluid to dry its expanded wing. At the end of this process, the butterfly can fly. It is interesting to note that butterfly does not grow any in size

Butterfly's courtship and mating is interesting, fascinating and colorful, it warrants a separate post to cover.

(to be continued)

Note: Several weeks ago when I went to local library with kids, a book titled "Butterflies: Decoding Their Signs and Symbols", on a display rack at the entrance with library staffs' recommended books , drew my attention. It turned out not be the book I thought it was, but it did provide many useful references on butterflies. A couple of weeks later, I borrowed the book " A World for Butterflies: their lives, behavior and future" by Phil Schappert, a Lepidopterist (a.k.a. butterfly biologist) at University of Texas.

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