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Sunday, March 29, 2009

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.

ButterfliesButterflies 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.

Do Butterflies Live in South America?

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!

Do Butterflies Live in Africa?

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.

Do Butterflies Live in Australia?

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.

Do Butterflies Live in Europe?

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.

Do Butterflies Live in Asia?

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.

Importance of Butterflies and Moths

Adult butterflies and moths are harmless, but their caterpillars (larvae) are often serious pests of plants, plant products, and certain animal products. Millions of dollars are spent each year to combat injurious caterpillars. Some of the harmful species are the clothes moths, cabbage butterfly, corn borer, codling moth, gypsy moth, and cotton bollworm. There are more types of harmful moths than harmful butterflies.

A few kinds of butterflies and moths are important in the pollination of flowers. The hummingbird moth, for example, pollmates certain flowers while gathering nectar; the yucca moth places a ball of pollen in the yucca flower where it has just laid eggs. On the whole, however, butterflies and moths play a much smaller role in pollination than do bees.

Butterflies and mothsButterflies and moths aid in the pollination of flowers.

The silkworm moth is the only insect other than the honeybee that has been domesticated. Some people collect butterflies and moths for the beautiful coloring of their wings. Caterpillars are eaten by many kinds of insects, reptiles, mammals, and birds; some humans also eat them, as a delicacy.

What Is a Butterfly Garden?

A butterfly garden, of course, is a garden designed to attract butterflies!

To attract swallowtails, a butterfly garden should include herbs from the parsley family. Swallowtails lay their eggs on these plants. Even plants that are usually considered “weeds” might be good to have in a butterfly garden. Of course, to entice monarchs to lay their eggs in a butterfly garden, milkweed must be chosen.

Brightly colored blossoms draw butterflies to nectar in the flowers. Butterflies especially like red, orange, yellow, and purple. To attract feeding adult butterflies, butterfly gardens should include plants that have flowers of these colors.

A butterfly garden should be a safe place for the insects. Strong chemicals called insecticides (ihn SEHK tuh sydz) should not be used. These chemicals kill harmful insects. But they kill butterflies, too.

Are Butterflies in Danger?

Some species, or kinds, of butterflies are in danger of becoming extinct. In many places in the world the number of butterflies is dropping.

Worldwide, there are over 40 species (types) of butterflies, skippers, and moths that are considered to be endangered or that are in danger of extinction. Little is known about the status of hundreds more species.

The Karner blue butterfly is one example of an endangered butterfly. In the past, the Karner blue lived in many places in the northern United States. But farms, highways, and houses have taken over most of the land on which Karner blues used to live.

In addition to habitat loss, butterflies in many places live in danger of being poisoned. People use pesticides to kill harmful insects. These chemicals also kill butterflies, bees, and other helpful insects.

One way to help butterflies is to plant butterfly gardens and to learn about the species that appear in those gardens.

Physical Description

Like other insects, butterflies and moths have bodies with three divisions. The head includes the antennae, eyes, and mouth parts. The thorax includes two pairs of wings and three pairs of legs. The abdomen, with eight or nine distinct segments, contains breathing pores and digestive and reproductive organs.

Butterflies and moths have a highly developed sense of smell. The organs of smell are the antennae, which are probably also used for hearing. The adult has two compound eyes; they are made up of thousands of hexagonal (six-sided) lenses and resemble miniature honeycombs.

For butterflies and most moths the principal mouthpart is a long tube called the proboscis, used for sucking nectar from flowers. When not in use, the proboscis curls up under the head. Two groups of moths lack the proboscis; one group has chewing mouthparts and the other has no mouthparts at all.

The legs are long and slender and can be used only for crawling. The two pairs of wings, the fore wings and the hind wings, consist of membranous tissue supported by a network of tiny hollow tubes called veins. The pattern of these veins varies from species to species. In butterflies, the fore and hind wings are held together by an enlargement of the veins at the base of the wings. The wings of moths are held together by a wide array of coupling mechanisms. In many species, a hook on the front part of the hind wing holds the two sets of wings together in flight.

The sometimes brilliant colors of moths and butterflies are caused by red, yellow, black, and white pigments in the wing scales. Blues, greens, and iridescent metallic hues are the result of overlapping scales acting as prisms to break up light rays.

Many butterflies have wings that are brightly colored on top and drab underneath. When these butterflies alight, they expose the drab undersides of the wings, blending with their surroundings and thus escaping notice of their enemies. Several edible species of butterflies have coloring similar to that of inedible species. The edible viceroy butterfly, for example, resembles the monarch—a species that birds avoid because of its unpleasant taste.

What Are the Parts of a Butterfly?

A butterfly has a thin body that might go unnoticed beside its big wings. Like the bodies of other animals, a butterfly body has a brain, stomach, heart, and other organs. And, as in other insects, the body parts of a butterfly are contained in three main regions—the head, thorax (THAWR aks), and abdomen.

On its head, a butterfly has two eyes, two antennae, and a mouth, called the proboscis (proh BOS ihs). The proboscis is a long, curled-up tube. When the butterfly sips nectar—a sweet liquid in flowers—the insect unrolls its proboscis and uses it like a straw.

The butterfly’s legs and wings are attached to the thorax, the middle part of its body. Every butterfly has a pair of front and a pair of back wings. The back pair is partly tucked underneath the front pair.

The abdomen, or hind part of a butterfly’s body, has holes called spiracles (SPY ruh kulz). The butterfly breathes through the spiracles. The abdomen also contains reproductive and digestive organs.

Can Butterflies See, Smell, Hear, Touch and Taste?

Butterflies have sense organs, but they are not the same as human sense organs. If you looked at a butterfly’s head close up, you would see two huge eyes. Butterflies, and many other insects, have compound eyes. That means that each eye is made up of many tiny lenses that form a honeycomb pattern. Scientists think that this type of eye is very good for seeing movement—an important ability for butterflies, which have many predators.

One of a butterfly’s most important sense organs is made up of the two antennae on top of its head. They help a butterfly smell and balance and may help the butterfly hear and touch things, as well.

Which body part does a butterfly use to taste food? Although it seems unlikely, the answer is its feet. A butterfly’s feet have tiny parts called cells that can taste. If a butterfly lands on a flower full of nectar, the cells signal the insect to start sipping. Life History

Butterflies and moths undergo a complete metamorphosis; that is, their life cycle includes four stages—(1) egg; (2) larva, or caterpillar; (3) pupa; and (4) adult.

What Happens as a Butterfly Grows?

A butterfly goes through four stages during its life cycle. It spends the first stage developing within an egg. Then, the egg hatches and releases a hungry caterpillar and the second stage begins.

Soon, the caterpillar grows large. When grown, the caterpillar transforms into a pupa (PYOO puh), the third stage. The pupa forms a shell around itself. This shell is called a chrysalis (KRIHS uh lihs). Inside the chrysalis, the pupa changes and grows. In time, it breaks out of the shell as a butterfly!

The grown butterfly is in its fourth stage of life. Many adult butterflies live only a few weeks. During that time, they lay eggs. Then the four stages of life start all over again.

A mothA moth goes from egg, to caterpillar, to pupa, to adult.
The Egg

Female butterflies and moths lay their eggs singly or in groups, generally on leaves or stems. The eggs of some species are coated with a protective covering. The size, shape, and color of the eggs vary, as does the time it takes them to hatch. Many butterfly and moth eggs are eaten by spiders, wasps, and ants.

The Caterpillar

The caterpillar, which hatches from the egg, is a wormlike creature with a body divided into a head, thorax, and abdomen; it has no wings. The head has six pairs of simple eyes, called ocelli, and the thorax has three pairs of walking legs. These have five joints apiece and a claw at the end. There are five pairs of fleshy, jointless legs called prolegs on the underside of the abdominal segments. The caterpillar's body may be hairy, covered with spines, or bare. Caterpillars have biting jaws. Most caterpillars feed on plants; some feed on animal products (such as wool); and a few feed on other insects.

As the caterpillar grows, it becomes too large for its skin, which it then sheds, or molts. The number of times that a caterpillar molts varies from species to species, ranging from 3 to 10 times. Many caterpillars change in color and pattern with each molt.

Why Does a Caterpillar Eat All the Time?

A caterpillar’s first day starts when it hatches out of its egg. Right away the hungry animal eats its own eggshell. Then it searches for green plants to eat. But, chances are it won’t need to search for long, because its mother probably laid her eggs near a good source of food.

The caterpillar starts eating and never stops. That’s its job—to eat and eat. It is storing up energy to use in the next stages of its life.

With all its eating, the caterpillar soon becomes too big for its own skin. Then the caterpillar molts. That means its skin splits wide open. The caterpillar sheds its old skin like taking off a coat. (It had already formed a new skin beneath the skin it molted.) A caterpillar will molt several times as it grows.

The Pupa

After several weeks as a caterpillar, the insect enters the pupal stage. During this stage, the pupa appears to be inactive, but major structural changes take place. The pupa of a moth is usually enclosed in a silken case called a cocoon, while a butterfly pupa is usually protected by a tough skin called a chrysalis. At first, a pupa is light in color and soft, but with exposure to air, it darkens and hardens. Moth pupae are brownish and relatively smooth; butterfly pupae may have a variety of colors and frequently an irregular shape. After a period ranging from weeks to months, the cocoon or chrysalis breaks apart and the adult comes out, usually head first. The wings are wrinkled but soon unfold and spread out to their full span. There is no further growth.

A cocoonA cocoon is spun by the larva of butterflies and moths for protection during the pupa stage.
What Happens Inside a Chrysalis?

Many people think that butterflies emerge from silky cocoons. This, however, is rarely the case. Only moths and a few species of butterfly do that. Most butterflies develop within a chrysalis.

When a caterpillar has finished eating and growing, it is time to form a chrysalis. First, the caterpillar finds a sheltered spot where it deposits a silky substance from which it will hang. Then the caterpillar molts one more time to become a pupa. Soon, the outer shell of the pupa hardens and the chrysalis is complete.

If someone found a chrysalis on a branch or stem, he or she might think the animal inside was dead. Nothing could be further from the truth. The caterpillar is very busy. It is turning into a butterfly. This entire process is called metamorphosis (MEHT uh MAWR fuh sihs).

Is It Magic?

The alteration a pupa undergoes may seem magical, but, of course, no magic is involved. Scientists are able to explain the changes that happen within a chrysalis.

Researchers have found that certain chemicals produced by the pupa actually break down many of the pupa’s body structures. This material is recycled and used to develop the new body parts needed by the adult butterfly.

When development is complete, the grown-up butterfly begins to separate itself from its chrysalis. The butterfly works hard to free itself. Out of the dead-looking chrysalis comes a beautiful butterfly!

The new butterfly has important work to do. It uses its front legs to “zip up” its proboscis, which was in two parts when the butterfly emerged. And, the insect pumps its folded-up wings full of air and blood, allowing them to spread out wide and to dry. Now the butterfly can take off.

The Adult

Most adult butterflies and moths live on flower nectar, but some moths—those that lack mouthparts—do not feed in the adult stage. Many types of butterflies and moths spend the winter as pupae or eggs. Of those that are in adult form during winter, some hibernate while others migrate. The normal lifespan of an adult butterfly or moth ranges from about a week to several months. Non-feeding moths, however, generally live only a few days.

Kinds of Butterflies

There are two groups of butterflies: the true butterflies and the skipper butterflies. The skippers combine moth and butterfly characteristics, but are closer to the true butterfly than to the moth. True butterflies are classified in many families; skippers, in two. True butterflies have relatively slender bodies, large wings, and clubbed antennae, and they do not spin cocoons.

A brief description of the principal butterfly families of the United States and Canada follows.

The Gossamer Wings

are brightly colored butterflies that prefer open, sunny places. The wings, ranging in span from 1/2 to 1 3/4 inches (13 to 44 mm), are colored metallic blue, green, or copper with lighter undersides covered with a pattern of spots or lines. The antennae are ringed with white, and white scales surround the eyes. Many of these butterflies keep their hind wings in motion even while at rest.

The caterpillars look something like slugs. Most gossamer wing caterpillars feed on vegetable matter and some species are pests. At least one species eats aphids. Several species feed on ant larvae; the caterpillars are carried by adult ants to their nests where the ants feed on a sweet secretion given off by the caterpillars while the caterpillars feed on the larvae.

What Are Blues, Coppers, and Hairstreaks?

Blues, coppers, and hairstreaks make up a group of related butterflies that live all over the world. Most of these butterflies are rather small.

Most blues have bluish color somewhere on their wings. Coppers have copper color, which is reddish-brown, like a penny. Hairstreaks have “tails,” called hairstreaks, on the lower end of their back wings.

The American copper is a common butterfly of North America. Another North American butterfly is the great purple hairstreak. The upper sides of its wings are blue or purplish-blue. Each of its lower pair of wings ends in two hairstreaks; often, one is long and one short.

Family: Lycaenidae. Examples:

American Copper

(Lycaena phlaeas). Red fore wings spotted with black, black hind wings with red border. Found from Hudson Bay to Georgia.

Bronze Copper

(Lycaena thoe). Males purplish orange with dark spots above; females, orange with dark markings above. Undersides of hind wings silvery gray with dark spots; of fore wings, orange with dark spots. Both sides of the hind wings have broad orange band. Found throughout northern and central United States.

Great Purple Hairstreak

(Atlides halesus). Top iridescent blue, underside dark brown with red spots. Two taillike projections on hind wings page B-538). Found throughout United States as far north as Illinois.

The Heliconians are chiefly tropical with brilliant colors and designs.

Family: Heliconiidae. Example:

Zebra Butterfly

(Heliconius charitonius). Tropical butterfly found mainly in Florida. Wings, much longer than they are wide, brownish-black crossed by yellow stripes.

The Metalmarks

typically have metallic-looking marks on the wings and range in color from dull reddish-brown to dark brown. The metalmarks are chiefly tropical, but some species, including the little metalmark and the northern metalmark, live in North America.

Family: Riodininae. The little metalmark is Lephelisca virgirienis; the northern, L. borealis.

Metalmark butterfliesMetalmark butterflies have metallic-looking marks on the wings.

Milkweed Butterflies

Milkweeds are so named because the eggs are usually laid on foliage of milkweeds and the larvae feed chiefly on these plants. The most common species is the monarch. It has a wingspread of up to about four inches (102 mm). Large numbers of monarchs fly south for the winter and return north in the spring. The queen, another common milkweed butterfly, has a wingspread of about three inches (76 mm). Milkweed butterflies are of no economic importance.

Family: Danaidae. The monarch is Danaus plexippus, or D. archippus; the queen, D. gilippus.

Milkweed butterfliesMilkweed butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed foliage that serves as food for its larvae.
Where in the World Do Monarchs and Other Butterflies Live?

Butterflies live all around the world. They depend on plants for food, so they cannot live in frozen Antarctica. But, butterflies can be found on all other continents and on most islands.

Hundreds of years ago, monarch butterflies lived only in North America and South America. Over time, however, monarchs spread across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, and Indonesia. They also spread across the Atlantic Ocean to the Canary Islands and parts of Europe.

How might monarchs have spread around the world? They could have “hitched” rides on the many ships that travel back and forth between continents. Once in their new homes, the female butterflies might have laid eggs. Then, over time, the population of these newly transplanted insects could increase greatly.

Where Do Monarchs Spend the Winter?

Monarchs can live as far north as Canada. But they cannot survive cold winters. So monarchs that live in cold places must migrate (MY grayt), or travel, to warmer places before winter.

In the fall, monarchs hatched in cooler regions migrate as far as 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) before winter starts. By late fall, they come to rest primarily in parts of California and Mexico, where they form huge colonies for the winter. In spring, shortly before dying, they begin flying north and east. They lay eggs along the way, typically in northern Mexico and the southern United States.

While the migratory monarchs live more than six months, their offspring generally live a few months or less. These offspring, and successive generations, move further north over the summer, laying eggs along the way. By the next fall, another generation of monarchs is born that will migrate to the warmer regions for winter—places where these monarchs have never been. Scientists do not fully understand how migrating monarchs “know” where to go.

How Do Other Butterflies Live Through Cold Winters?

Some butterflies hibernate (HY buhr nayt) during cold winter weather. The mourning cloak is one such butterfly.

In the fall, when the days are getting cool, the mourning cloak searches for a sheltered place. It snuggles into a pile of leaves under a log, a small crack in a brick wall, or some other cozy spot. Then the butterfly makes a special chemical in its body that keeps its blood from freezing.

When the days grow warmer in spring, the mourning cloak wakes up and begins to shiver. Shivering produces heat inside the butterfly’s body. Soon, the mourning cloak is ready to fly away.

Many other kinds of butterflies hibernate, as well. Like the mourning cloak, they wake up as winter turns to spring.

What Makes a Monarch’s Wings So Colorful?

A monarch’s wings are made up of thousands of tiny, thin, flat scales. Each scale has its own special color. The scales fit together to form a beautiful, complex pattern.

Other butterflies’ wings are made of scales, too. And, so are moths’ wings. No other type of insect has wing scales like those of butterflies and moths.

That is why the wings of flies, bees, and other insects are clear or much less colorful.

What colors can butterfly wings be? They can be black, white, gray, brown, tan, red, orange, and yellow. They also can be bright shades of blue, purple, and green.

How Do Monarchs Protect Themselves?

To birds, frogs, spiders, and other animals that eat insects, a butterfly looks like dinner.

The monarch, however, protects itself by tasting bad to predators. When a bird takes a bite out of a monarch, the bird gets sick. Birds remember the bright pattern of a monarch’s wing. A bird that gets sick from tasting one monarch probably won’t try to eat another.

Monarch butterflies taste bad because monarch caterpillars eat milkweed plants. For most creatures, eating milkweed results in vomiting or even death. Protective chemicals that the caterpillar obtains by eating the milkweed remain with it through its metamorphosis into a butterfly. The bitter or poisonous juices of the milkweed plant are stored in the adult monarch’s tissues, making the insect taste bad.

Viceroy butterflies have wings that look like monarch wings. Viceroys aren’t the least bit poisonous. But birds think they are distasteful monarchs, and so they stay away.

Monarch butterfliesMonarch butterflies have a wingspread of up to four inches.

Brush-footed Butterflies

The nymphalids, or brush-footed butterflies, make up the largest family of butterflies; there are more than 5,000 species. The front legs of these butterflies are hairy brushlike pads. Because the satyrs, wood nymphs, heliconians, and milkweeds have similar legs, some authorities include these butterflies in the nymphalid family.

Do Some Butterflies Have Brushes for Legs?

Members of the brush-footed butterfly family have a pair of short, hairy front legs that look like brushes. These legs are not used for walking. Some scientists think the “brushes” on these front legs help the butterflies taste and smell things.

Brush-footed butterflies live in most parts of the world and include many butterflies that are common to North America. The viceroy is a brush-footed butterfly. So are the mourning cloak and the red admiral. Some scientists classify the monarch into this family as well, but others separate the monarch and its relatives into their own family—the milkweed butterflies.

Family: Nymphalidae. Examples:

Banded Purple, or White Admiral

(Basilarchia arthemis) has black wings with white bands. Found in eastern Canada and northeastern United States.


(Junonia coenia) has brownish wings with one large and one small eyespot on each wing Found throughout the southern United States.

Comma, or Hop Merchant

(Polygonia comma) lays its eggs on hops. A white, comma-shaped marking is on the lower surface of each hind wing. Found from New England to Texas.

The Crescent Spots

are best represented by the pearl crescent (Phyciodes tharos). Dull orange wings with black edges and markings. Hind wing has pearl-gray crescent on underside. Found throughout United States.

The Fritillaries

Spoon-shaped clubs on antennae. Mottled in brown, red, black, and silvery gray. Especially common in midsummer. Common species include:

Diana Fritillary

(Speyeria diana). female is larger and has bluish-black wings. Ranges from West Virginia to Missouri, north to Ohio and south to Georgia.

Great Spangled Fritillary

(S. cybele). Brown wings with black markings on upper surfaces and black and silver markings below. Found mainly in northern United States and Canada.

Regal Fritillary

(S. idalia). Brown wings with black spots. Ranges from north Atlantic states west to Nebraska.

Mourning Cloak

(Nymphalis antiopa) has maroon wings with yellow borders. Common throughout temperate regions of the world.

Painted Lady

(Vanessa cardui) is found in nearly all parts of the world. Wings brightly marked with orange, black, brown, and white above with drab undersides. Migrate in large numbers when food becomes scarce.

Red Admiral

(Vanessa atalanta) has dark brown wings with reddish-orange markings; hind wings are slightly scalloped. Found throughout temperate regions of the world.


(Basilarchia archippus) has orange-brown fore wings with black border spotted with white. Looks very much like the monarch, but is smaller. Found from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Pierids

Pierids are the most familiar types of butterflies found in open fields. This group includes the sulfurs, orange-tips, and whites. Pierids are especially numerous when clover is in bloom. The pierids are colored orange, yellow, or white and often have dark markings on the wings. The wings are rounded and range from 1 to 2 1/4 inches (25 to 57 mm) in span. The fore wings and hind wings are nearly the same size. The caterpillars are greenish or whitish with stripes running lengthwise. Some destroy garden crops.

Sulfur and white butterfliesSulfur and white butterflies are found in open fields.
What Are Sulfurs and Whites?

Sulfurs—sometimes spelled sulphurs—and whites make up a family of butterflies that live all over the world. Most of these butterflies, however, live in tropical lands.

In North America, including most of the United States, the orange sulfur is common. The upper side of its wings is yellow, but the lower side of the wings is often yellow-orange with dark outer edges. This butterfly is also called the alfalfa butterfly because the females lay their eggs on alfalfa. The orange sulfur caterpillar eats alfalfa plants.

Another common butterfly of this group is the cabbage white. It is a small white butterfly with tiny black spots and black tips on its upper wings. The caterpillar of the cabbage white eats cabbage and other leafy vegetables. Farmers and gardeners consider it a pest.

Family: Pieridae. Examples:

Cabbage Butterfly, or Imported Cabbageworm

(Pieris rapae). White wings with black tips and spots. Common pest on cabbage and similar plants. Very common in temperate zone.

Falcate Orange-tip

(Anthocharis midea). Male's wings are white, tipped with orange. Found east of Rockies, especially in southern states.

Little Sulfur

(Eurema lisa). Bright yellow wings with black edges. Found throughout the United States and southern Canada.

Orange Sulfur

(Colias eurytheme). The male's wings are orange with dark borders and spots. Often found along roadsides and in muddy places. Found throughout the United States.

Satyrs and Wood Nymphs

Satyrs and wood nymphs are brownish or gray butterflies with an eyespot on each wing. Although the wings are large, compared with the slender body, satyrs are weak fliers. The wingspan ranges from one to three inches (25 to 76 mm). Satyrs are found in shady areas, especially on the edges of woods. The caterpillar is greenish or brownish and appears to have a forked tail.

Satyrs and wood nymphsSatyrs and wood nymphs have an eyespot on each wing.
What Are Satyrs and Wood Nymphs?

Satyrs (SAT uhrz) and wood nymphs (nihmfz) are a group of related butterflies that live all over the world. The northern and southern pearly eye are examples of common satyrs in the United States. They are brown with eyespot markings near the edges of their wings.

Some scientists classify satyrs and wood nymphs in their own family. But other scientists include them into the brush-footed butterfly family.

Most kinds of satyrs and wood nymphs live in or near woods. They often perch on tree trunks. Most of these butterflies feed on flower nectar. But some sip sap from trees or liquids from rotting fruit or carrion (decaying meat).

Although most of these butterflies live in or near the woods, some are able to survive where it is too cold for trees to grow. These butterflies are sometimes called arctic butterflies. They can survive in the frozen tundra of the Arctic Circle or high up in the mountains.

Family: Satyridae. Examples:

Common Wood Nymph, or Grayling

(Cercyonis pegala). Colors vary, but most have large yellow area on fore wings with two dark eyespots. Found throughout United States and Canada.

Little Wood Satyr

(Euptychia cymela). Dark brown above with yellow-ringed eyespots. Tan below. Very common throughout United States and Canada

The Skippers

are mostly small butterflies, with an average wingspan of about 1 1/2 inches (38 mm). They appear to skip over the ground as they fly. The body is hairy and is fatter than that of other butterflies, and the antennae generally end in a hook. The wings are a drab brown with golden, silver, or copper markings. The caterpillars spin loose cocoons, the only butterfly caterpillars to do so. Some of the caterpillars build tentlike nests in which they molt. More than 2,000 species of skippers have been identified, most of them economically unimportant.

Family Hesperiidae. Examples:

Long-tailed Skipper

(Urbanus proteus). Dark brown with yellowish spots; hind wings have tails. Ranges along Atlantic and Gulf coasts from Connecticut to Mexico.

Silver-spotted Skipper

(Epargyreus clarus). Brown with tawny spots on fore wings. Common throughout temperate North America.

Family Megathymidae. Example:

Yucca Skipper

(Megathymus yuccae). Wingspan up to about 3 inches (76 mm); fat, mothlike body. Dark brown wings marked with reddish brown. Found in southwestern United States and Mexico.

Are Skippers Butterflies?

Skippers are not true butterflies, but they are closely related to them and to moths. In fact, it can be hard to tell them apart.

But, looking closely at a skipper’s antennae will help you identify these creatures. Most skippers have very characteristic hooks at the tips of their antennae. Butterflies have antennae with rounded or clubbed tips. Moth antennae are usually feathered.

Another way to identify a skipper is to watch it fly. A skipper darts and skips as it moves from one flower to another.

Skippers live in most parts of the world. About 300 species, or kinds, live in North America. Some of the skippers of North America include the checkered skipper, fiery skipper, Juvenal’s duskywing, least skipperling, roadside skipper, and the silver-spotted skipper.

The Snout Butterflies

have long, jointed mouthparts that project from the front of the head to form a pronounced snout or beak. Only one species (Libytheana bachmanii) is common in the United States.

Family: Libytheidae.

Snout butterfliesSnout butterflies have a pronounced snout or beak.
Do Some Butterflies Have Snouts?

Picture a fox or a dog. Each of these animals has a nose and mouth that sticks out from the head. This pointed part of the head is called a snout.

A small family of butterflies, called snout butterflies, has mouthparts that are long and snoutlike. But a snout butterfly does not have a true snout like a fox or a dog. A butterfly’s snoutlike mouthparts seem to be used for camouflage.

When the butterfly rests, these mouthparts look like the stalk of a leaf. So, the snout helps the butterfly disguise itself as a leaf and fool its predators.

Most snout butterflies live in tropical lands. One of the most common, the American snout butterfly—often simply called the snout butterfly—lives in a range that spans from Paraguay in South America to the southern United States.

The Swallowtails and Parnassians

Swallowtails get their name from the taillike extensions on the hind wings of some species. With a wingspan of up to 5 1/2 inches (140 mm), swallowtails are the largest butterflies found in the United States. They are generally black, marked with yellow, green, and blue. The wing edges may be spotted with red or orange.

Parnassians are smaller than swallowtails and in the United States are found primarily in the west.

Can Butterflies Have Tails?

Each of the swallowtail butterfly’s back wings comes to a long, skinny point. To many people, these points look like tails. But they are not real tails like those on cats or dogs.

Swallowtails all over the world are closely related. Most live in tropical places, although some familiar, beautiful kinds live in the United States.

Many swallowtails are large compared with other butterflies. Some of the largest kinds have wings that are nearly 10 inches (25 centimeters) across!

The tiger swallowtail is one of the largest and most beautiful butterflies. This butterfly has yellow wings striped in black in a pattern like that of a tiger’s coat. When a tiger swallowtail opens its wings, it is more than 6 inches (15 centimeters) across.

Family: Papilionidae. Examples:

Black Swallowtail

(Papilio Polyxenes). Black wings with double row of yellow spots. Common throughout United States and southern Canada. Caterpillars eat leaves of carrots, parsnips, and similar plants.

Giant Swallowtail

(P. cresphontes). Largest butterfly in United States. Dark brown with yellow bars. Ranges northward to southern Canada, Caterpillars, called orange dogs, harm orange trees in Florida by feeding on the leaves.

Parnassian Butterflies

(genus Parnassius). Translucent whitish wings with gray or brownish-red markings; stout bodies and rounded wings. Live in northern mountain regions.

Tiger Swallowtail

(Papilio glaucus). Yellow wings with dark edges and stripes. Caterpillars eat tree leaves. Found throughout United States and southern Canada, except on Pacific coast.

SwallowtailsSwallowtails have tail-like extensions on the hind wings.

Kinds of Moths

There are more than 100 families of moths and a vast number of species. Most are drab in color, but some have beautiful markings. Most moths are attracted to light; some will fly so close to a hot light bulb or open flame that they burn to death.

MothsMoths fly at dusk or at night.

Among the more common or important moth families in the United States and Canada are the following:

The Arctids

See The Tiger Moths, in this list.

The Bagworms

are best represented by the common, or evergreen, bagworm. The adult male page B-541) has a black, slender body and transparent wings. The female has no legs, wings, or antennae, and dies shortly after laying the eggs. The caterpillars weave baglike cases that hang from tree twigs. The caterpillars feed on such evergreens as cedar and in large numbers can do serious damage.

Family: Psychidae. The common bagworm is Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis.

The Clearwings

have narrow, partly transparent wings. They resemble wasps in shape and coloring. Unlike most moths, the clearwings fly during the day. The larvae bore into stems, bark, and roots of woody plants and some species do serious damage.

Family: Sesiidae. Example:

Peach Tree Borer

(Synanthedon exitiosa). Adult has blue body with yellow stripes. Larvae attack peach trees, doing millions of dollars' worth of damage each year. Feed under bark, killing young trees and weakening older ones.

The Clothes Moths

are delicate, small moths with wingspans of less than one inch (25 mm). The adults do not feed. Unlike most moths, clothes moths avoid light, seeking dark places. The white larvae feed on dried vegetable and animal substances. Besides clothing, clothes moths destroy rugs, upholstery, and fur.

Family: Tineidae. Examples:

Casemaking Clothes Moth

(Tinea pellionella). Grayish-yellow. Fringe of hairs along rear of hind wings. Larvae make cases, or shells, in which they complete their growth over summer and hibernate in winter; they pupate in the spring.

Webbing Clothes Moth

(Tineola bisselliella). Most common clothes moth. Wings more yellow than in casemaking species. Both sets of wings are fringed. Larvae leave weblike trails of silk as they move about.

The Cossids

are best represented by the leopard moth. It is native to Europe. Its larvae bore into fruit and shade trees.

Family: Cossidae. The leopard moth is Zeuzera pyrina.

The Geometers, or Measuring Worms

The most important type is the cankerworm.

Family: Geometridae.

The linen looperThe linen looper goes from inchworm to moth.
The Giant Silkworms

See The Saturniids, in this list.

The Hawk (or Sphinx) Moths

include the white-lined sphinx and hog sphinx —and the tomato hornworm, which attacks tomato and tobacco plants. When at rest, the caterpillar usually lifts up the whole front of its body and folds down its head toward the thorax. This posture somewhat resembles that of the Sphinx of Egypt.

Family: Sphingidae. The white-lined sphinx is Hyles lineata; the hog sphinx, Darapsa myron; the tomato hornworm, Manduca quinquemaculata.

The Lasiocampids. An example is the tent caterpillar.

Family: Lasiocampidae.

Hawk mothsHawk moths have stout bodies and small hind wings.
The Measuring Worms

See The Geometers, in this list.

The Olethreutid Moths

are similar to the tortricids and are sometimes included in the tortricid family. Some, such as the codling moth, are serious pests.

Family: Olethreutidae.

The Owlet Moths,

with more than 20,000 species, make up the largest family. The fore wings are gray or brown, striped or spotted. The hind wings are usually paler and without pattern. Many owlet caterpillars are highly destructive farm pests.

Family: Noctuidae. Examples:


The catepillar of any of several species of owlet moths.

Corn Earworm

One of the worst pests in the United States.


The catepillar of any of several species of owlet moth.


are so named because of their wing posture when at rest—the fore wings cover the hind ones. Popular with collectors. The ilia underwing is Catocala ilia; the white underwing. C. relicta.)

The Pyralid (or Snout) Moths

have snoutlike mouthparts. The wingspan is about 34 inch (19 mm). The larvae feed on grain and grain products.

Family: Pyralidae. Examples:

European Corn Borer

A destructive catepillar that attacks the stalks and ears of corn.

Close-wing Snout Moth

(Crambus luteoiellus). Straw-colored. When at rest, it rolls wings oround body. Adults do not feed. Common in grasslands east of the Rocky Mountains. Larvae are called webworms.

Giant Silkworm Moths

The saturniids, or giant silkworms, are the largest moths found in the United States and Canada. Wingspans of 5 to 6 inches (127 to 152 mm) are common in temperate regions while tropical species have spans of up to 10 inches (254 mm) or more. The fore and hind wings often have transparent spots. The cocoons are used for silk, and the caterpillars of some species of saturniids are eaten by Indians of the Southwest.

Family: Saturniidae. Examples:


(Hyalophora cecropia). One of the most beautiful moths. Common from Atlantic to Rocky Mountains. Adults do not feed. Caterpillars feed on tree leaves.


(Automeris io). Vividly colored. Male has yellow fore wings, female (shown in color picture) brown fore wings. Large spot on hind wings. Bright green caterpillar with red-and-white rings and poisonous spines. Feeds on grasses and corn.


(Actias luna). Pale green. Hind wings have long, outward-turning tails. Caterpillars feed on broadleafed trees but do little damage.


(Callosamia promethea). Female light brown with non-feathered antennae. Found in eastern United States and Canada. Adults do not feed. Of little economic importance.

The Silkworm,

family Bombycidae.

The Snout Moths

See The Pyralid Moths, in this list.

The Sphinx Moths

See The Hawk Moths, in this list.

The Tiger Moths, or Arctids,

have hairy bodies and wingspans of 1 1/2 to 3 inches (38 to 76 mm). They may be white, brown, or orange with darker spots or stripes. Some species feed on garden crops but do relatively little damage.

Family: Arctiidae. Examples:

Acrea, or Salt-marsh Caterpillar

(Estigmene acrea). Common throughout North America. Caterpillars feed on a variety of plants besides those found in salt marshes.

Fall Webworm

(Hyphantria cunea). Grayish-white, flecked with brown. Groups of caterpillars often live together in a weblike nest. Feed on fruit trees, especially the cherry.

Woolly Bear, or Isabella Moth

(Pyrrharctia isabella). Light yellowish-brown fore wings with small black spots. Straw-colored hind wings with small black spots. Caterpillars are furry, red-brown with black ends; very common in the fall. No economic importance.

Tiger mothsTiger moths and their caterpillars vary in size and color.
The Tortricid Moths

are mostly gray or brown. The wingspan is one inch (25 mm) or less. The caterpillars are usually found in rolled leaves. Some species are tree pests.

Family: Tortricidae. Example:

Spruce Budworm

(Choristoneura fumiferana). The larvae cause enormous damage by defoliating spruce and related trees.

The Tussock Moths,

family Lymantriidae.

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