“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world the master calls a butterfly”. Richard Bach
Butterflies are part of the order of insects Lepidoptera that also includes moths. Lepidopteran species are characterized by the scales on their bodies and wings, and a proboscis (an elongated appendage from the head). The scales are modified, flattened “hairs”, and give butterflies and moths their astonishing variety of colors and patterns. Like most other insects, butterflies and moths are holometabolous (they undergo complete metamorphosis).
The life of a butterfly starts as an egg. Then it becomes a larva, or caterpillar, that is a polypod with a cylindrical body. As it grows it goes through a couple of stages (instars). When the caterpillar is fully developed, it becomes a pupa (chrysalis). Depending on the species, the pupa may be covered in silk and attached to many different types of debris, or may not be covered at all. The time of encapsulation varies from species to species (2 weeks to 10 months). The adult uses abdominal hooks or projections located on the head to emerge from the pupa.
Although butterflies are important in the ecosystem as pollinators, they can also cause a lot of damage to crops. Female butterflies lay between 200 to 600 eggs, but for some species this number can go up to 30,000 eggs in one day. The caterpillars hatching from the eggs eat large quantities of plants.
Butterflies can be found all over the world, except Antarctica and on all terrestrial terrains, from rainforests to deserts and from mountains to lowlands. Even in the Himalayas some species have been found up to an altitude of 6.000 meters above sea level.
Butterflies navigate using time-compensated sun compasses. They can see polarized light so they can also navigate in cloudy circumstances.
English butterfly comes from Old English buttorfleoge, from butter (n.) + fly (n.), maybe based on the old belief that butterflies (or witches disguised as butterflies) consumed butter or milk that was left uncovered. Another theory connects it to the color of the insect’s excrement, based on Dutch boterschijte (buttershit).
Dutch vlinder probably comes from New High German flindern or Flemish flit, both meaning to flutter away.
Spanish mariposa comes from María + posa, imperative of the verb posar, to pose. Old (childrens´) songs referred to butterflies calling them to sit down with verses like “María, pósate”.
Italian farfalla comes from Latin papiliònem, accusative of papilio, butterfly, probably a reduplicated form of Proto-Indo-European *pal, to feel/touch/shake.
Butterfly in other languages:
Dutch: de vlinder
Spanish: la mariposa
Italian: la farfalla
Categories: Flora and fauna