Fun Facts about Butterflies

Butterfly Facts

Did you know...?

1. Butterfly wings are transparent. 

Even though butterflies’ wings appear multi-colored, they are actually covered with tiny scales that reflect light in amazing colors. The wing itself is made up of scales formed by layers of the same protein as the insect’s exoskeleton. These layers are so thin that you can see through them. As the butterfly ages, these scales fall off and reveal the transparent membrane of the wings.

 

2. Butterflies taste with their feet. 

Butterflies have taste buds on their feet to help them find food and/or a place to lay their eggs. The female butterfly will step repeatedly on a leaf in order to release the plant’s juices. The chemo-receptors on her legs will identify the correct match of plant chemicals. Then, she will lay her eggs on the appropriate plant. The butterfly will also step on its food in order to taste foods such as fermenting fruit.

 

3. Butterflies enjoy an all-liquid diet.  

Adult butterflies only drink liquids--usually nectar—because their mouthparts only allow for drinking, not chewing. Its tube-like tongue or proboscis functions like a straw, unfurling when it’s ready to sip nectar from a flower. When not sipping, the proboscis curls up underneath the butterfly’s chin.

 

4. A butterfly that can’t drink is in trouble.  

As soon as the young butterfly emerges from its chrysalis or pupal case, it must get to work assembling its mouthparts. Early on, it is in two pieces and the butterfly must form it into one single proboscis or tube-like tongue, as soon as possible. Sometimes, you can watch a butterfly curling and uncurling it… just to make sure it works properly.

 

5. Why do you see butterflies in mud puddles?

They are getting the minerals and salts that mud puddles often provide. This is called ‘puddling’ and the male butterflies are more often seen doing this because they need the minerals for their sperm. These nutrients are then passed to the female during mating and the minerals will contribute to the survival of her eggs.

 

6. Butterflies can’t fly if it’s too cold.

Butterflies need a body temperature between 82 and 100 degrees to fly with ease. Since they are cold-blooded animals, they can’t regulate their body temperatures. If temps go below 55 degrees, they can’t move and won’t be able to eat or fly away from their predators. On cooler days, you might see a butterfly ‘sunning’ itself or shivering… trying to warm up the flight muscles in its wings.

 

7. How long do most butterflies live?

Once a butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, it might only live 2-4 weeks. They will use their short amount of time to search for food and to mate. Some of the smallest ‘blue’ butterflies will only live a few days, while butterflies that overwinter as adults, such as monarchs (pictured) and mourning cloaks, can live up to nine months.

 

8. Butterflies are nearsighted, but they can see many colors.

Butterflies have good eyesight within 10-12 feet, but any farther, things look blurry. They also must rely on ultraviolet colors (invisible to the human eye) to find mates and the right flowers. Help butterflies to ‘see’ by planting flowers in larger groupings of single colors or single plant varieties.

 

9. Don’t eat me!

Lots of predators think that butterflies might make a tasty snack. However, a butterfly’s patterning has evolved over time as a protection. Some have developed wing colors and patterns that make them invisible in their surroundings. Also, predators have learned to avoid brightly colored butterflies because of their toxicity when eaten, such as monarch caterpillars that ingest the leaves of poisonous milkweed. Some butterflies have mimicked the patterning of these poisonous butterflies and their predators will avoid them, too.