Lepidoptera, the scientific name for the butterfly, are insects that live on every continent on earth except Antarctica. Although the female butterfly may lay up to 100 eggs during her life, only two percent usually survive long enough to reproduce. Any place that has a period of warmth and a host plant will have one, hundreds, or thousands of butterfly species.
The Adult Butterfly
The adult butterfly has six legs, three body segments and a pair of wings. The head of the butterfly has antennae to help balance him in flight and to detect certain odors or fragrances. The female butterfly gives off a scent, called pheromones, that a male can detect from up to a mile away. The scent tells the male butterfly that a female who is ready to mate is in the area. When the male locates the female, they attach themselves together at the abdomen, facing in opposite directions. The male penis deposits spermatozoa in the abdomen of the female. The female now has up to 100 eggs and a pouch of sperm. Each time she lays an egg on the leaf of a host plant, the egg will fertilize itself as it passes by the pouch of sperm. As the egg is fertilized, the sex of the next butterfly is determined.
The Host Plant
The adult butterfly feeds only on liquids, thus it has no mouth. The insect has a proboscis – resembling a double-barreled straw – through which it drinks. The butterfly tastes with its feet as it searches for the one plant or group of closely related plants her larvae will need to eat when the eggs hatch. Some species lay one egg on the surface of a leaf, others may lay an egg underneath the leaf and some lay clusters of eggs on either side. The larvae are very tiny when first hatched. Some will eat their egg shell and others will begin eating the leaves of the host plant immediately.
As the caterpillar(larva) grows, its skin does not grow with it. The caterpillar forms a new skin underneath the outer skin. When ready, the old skin is shed. This is called molting. Before the first molting of a caterpillar, it is known as the first instar stage. After it has molted, it enters the second instar stage. The caterpillar will continue to grow and molt until it reaches the fifth instar stage. After the fifth stage, the caterpillar spins a silk girdle to attach itself to the stem of the host plant. The butterfly now has the outer shell of the Chrysalis or pupa.
The chrysalis is a firm casing created during the last molt. Inside the chrysalis, nearly all of the caterpillar breaks down to a liquid, except for a small number of cells that have remained dormant. These cells become active and help form the butterfly. This stage lasts between 10 and 14 days. The adult butterfly emerges from the chrysalis unable to fly until the wings dry and the flight muscles have been exercised.
About the Adult butterfly
Butterflies see only three colors: red, green and yellow. They drink the nectar of particular flowers. For some species, it may be a yellow flower, for others it may be red. Some species feed on mud, cow dung or rotted fruit. The butterfly does not pollinate plants except for the accidental pollen picked up by the feet or antennae, then deposited onto another flower.
Butterfly wings are clear with colorful scales or dots. These colors help regulate body temperature. The dark scales near the body absorb more heat from the sun, keeping the body warm. The colors also help them identify mates. Their colors advertise which species and sex they are. Some butterflies use their colors to mimic other insects that predators find distasteful. Camouflage is another reason for the colorful scales on the wings.
The adult usually lives from two to four weeks, with the brimstone butterfly living the longest at nine to ten months. Females live longer than males. With over 24,000 species, their are butterflies with wingspans from 1 cm to 11 inches.
Their are butterfly farms wherever butterflies live. Some countries, like Costa Rica, are known for their colorful butterflies, bringing tourists in from all over the world. Butterflies do not form cocoons, although most moths do. The butterfly rests with wings folded up. As the insect nears the end of life, it may be found resting for several minutes or hours, not moving at all. The butterfly goes through a complete metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly from less than one month to six weeks.