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1. What is a butterfly?
2. What do Lepidoptera and Papilionoidea mean?
3. What is the difference between a butterfly and a moth?
4. What are Papilionidae, Pieridae, Nymphalidae and Lycaenidae?
5. What is the largest butterfly in the world?
6. What is the smallest butterfly in the world?
7. What is the most common and widespread butterfly?
8. What is the rarest butterfly in the world?
9. How many butterfly species are there worldwide?
10. Why do butterflies have colourful wings?
11. What is mimicry?
12. What does give a butterfly its colour and sheen?
13. For how long does an adult butterfly live?
14. What is the purpose of the butterfly’s life?
15. What is the lifecycle of the butterfly like?
16. Are butterflies important?
17. Are butterflies dangerous or harmful?
18. What do butterflies eat?
19. Why do butterflies need sunlight?
20. Where do butterflies disappear when it’s raining?
21. How do butterflies hibernate or aestivate?
22. Why do butterflies migrate?
23. What can I do for the butterflies?


1. What is a butterfly?
Butterflies belong to INSECTS, which is the largest, most varied group of animals.
The main features of these animals have in common are:
- 6 legs
- one pair of antennae
- a segmented  body in which three body parts, a head, a thorax and an abdomen can be distinguished.
Insects are further divided into 30 orders, the main basis of classification being their wing structure.
Butterflies belong to, alongside with moths to an order called Lepidoptera. Top of the page

2. What do Lepidoptera and Papilionoidea mean?
Butterflies and moths together are called Lepidoptera – in the classification of insects, Lepidoptera is the order or “niche” for them both. Their wings are covered with tiny scales and that is where the name “Lepidoptera” comes from.
Butterflies alone are called Papilionoidea – which is the superfamily of butterflies.
In some older classifications another superfamily, Hesperioidea (the Skippers) were regarded as butterflies, but these days they are excluded because of their closer resemblance to Moths.

3. What is the difference between a butterfly and a moth?
Butterflies are day-flying while moths generally fly at night. However, there are moths that are active during the day that could easily pass for butterflies. The best feature to look at is their antennae: Butterflies always have threadlike antennae that club tipped. Moths can have many types of antennae: feathery, hairy, threadlike or filamentous, but without the clubbed tips.  Top of the page

4. What are Papilionidae, Pieridae, Nymphalidae and Lycaenidae?
They are the names of the four butterfly families that together make up Papilionoidea, the superfamily of butterflies.
You may see other classifications where Nymphalidae (Brushfoots) are concerned; they are often divided into Satyridae, Danainae, Nymphalidae and Libytheidae.
This website however chooses to regard them as one family as they have one dominant characteristic in common: they have only 4 functional legs; their first pair of legs is redundant when it comes to being in motion.
Papilionidae (Swallowtails) present great variety of colour, shape and size. They are often recognised of their tails, although in many species they are missing.
Pieridae (Whites, Sulphurs and Yellows) do not have tails. They are a widespread group often found at ecological and geographical extremes of animal life. Some species migrate.
Lycaenidae (Hairstreaks, Coppers and Blues) are a large family of small butterflies. They are generally gregarious and live locally. Top of the page

5. What is the largest butterfly in the world?
The largest butterfly in the world is the female Ornithoptera alexandrae (Papilionidae) or Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing. It’s wingspan can be as much as 280 mm. It lives in the rain forests of Papua New Guinea and is classified as Endangered in the Red Data Book of Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World.
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6. What is the smallest butterfly in the world?
The smallest butterfly in the world is Brephidium exilis (Lycaenidae) or Western Pygmy Blue with a wingspan of as little as from15 to19 mm. It is fairly widespread in Southern USA.

7. What is the most common and widespread butterfly?
The most common and widespread butterfly is Cynthia cardui (Nymphalidae) or Painted Lady, thanks to its migratory behaviour. Hypolimnas misippus (Nymphalidae) or the Common eggfly may be even more widespread, but not as common.

8. What is the rarest butterfly in the world?
The rarest butterfly in the world is Ornithoptera alexandrae (Papilionidae) or Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing. It is also the largest butterfly in the world. It lives in the rain forests of Papua New Guinea and is classified as Endangered in the Red Data Book of Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World.

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9. How many butterfly species are there worldwide?
It depends how the count is made exactly and how the different species and subspecies are treated in the count. In a careful estimate, there are about 14 750 known butterfly species worldwide.


10. Why do butterflies have colourful wings?
11. What is Mimicry?
The colouring plays an important part in the self-defence of the butterfly. The eye-spots are a familiar pattern on the wings, mimicking the eyes of a larger animal, thus scaring smaller predators away.
Butterflies that are coloured bright red or bright yellow are usually poisonous or at least taste bad to the predator. After eating such a butterfly the predator comes ill and in the future they will avoid butterflies coloured like that, thanks to remembering the bad experience. On the other hand, many flashy butterflies have dull coloured undersides that help them to hide from the predators. With wings closed, they are barely noticeable.
There is also a phenomenon called MIMICRY. When the caterpillars feed on poisonous plants the poison stays in their bodies even through the pupal stage onto the adult butterfly. These butterflies (For example, The Monarch) always have a striking colour pattern on their wings and it protects this butterfly from the predators. Other butterflies that are not poisonous or inedible utilize this by looking the poisonous type. This is called mimicry.
Sometimes two or more inedible species use the same colour pattern to maximise the poisonous effect and thus its protection. But at the same time and probably for the credibility of the pattern only the females of some of the edible species are protected by mimicry. Should too many edible butterflies carry a poisonous pattern, its protection would be lost. This is why in some species the males look completely different from the females.

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12. What does give a butterfly its colour and sheen?
The hollow, pigmented scales that cover the wings of the butterfly (a bit like roof tiles) give a butterfly its colours. The sheen comes from the structure and the arrangement of the scales on the wings. A special reflection of the light is created, giving the wings a metallic glow.

13. For how long does an adult butterfly live?
The lifetime of an adult butterfly depends considerably on the specimen and the number of generations per year, the climate and whether the butterfly will hibernate or aestivate. Butterflies that have only one generation per year and thus hibernate have a life span of up to 10 moths. The adult Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni)can reach the age of even 11 months at the most. For butterflies with more than one generation per year the life span is shorter and it can be anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months.
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14. What is the purpose of the butterfly’s life?
The purpose of the butterfly’s life is to reproduce, to maintain life. (This reminds me of how my philosophy teacher answered the question, “What is the meaning of life?”. He said the only answer he can think of is, “To maintain life.” For butterflies and for people the answer would be about the same.)

15. What is the lifecycle of the butterfly like?
The life cycle of the butterfly is described in great detail on this website on a separate page. To read the page, CLICK HERE

16. Are butterflies important?
Yes. They are important as plant pollinators and at that, they are second only to the bees. They are also very sensitive to the environment and thus are good indicators in assessing how healthy or unhealthy conditions we are living in. They also have their own important place in the ecosystem like all animals do. And of course the joy and the delight we can have from watching these beautiful creatures is priceless.

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17. Are butterflies dangerous or harmful?
No. They don’t bite or sting. They don’t pester you or make noise. They are just amazingly beautiful.


18. What do butterflies eat?
Most butterflies drink nectar from flowers through their long proboscis, but a good many species also feed on sap of the trees or rotting organic material, especially fruit. Butterfly caterpillars then eat almost exclusively plants.

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19. Why do butterflies need sunlight?
Butterflies are cold-blooded, which means their body temperature is the same as of their surroundings. To become active, they need a minimum body temperature of 15 degrees Celsius, although in full action most prefer 30 to 35ºC. To gain that, they need to warm themselves in the sun.

20. Where do butterflies disappear when it’s raining?
When it starts to rain, butterflies will hide in the thick foliage or undergrowth hanging from the undersides of the leaves or they crawl into clefts of rocks or a pile of wood other safe places. They do the same for the night.

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21. How do butterflies hibernate or aestivate?
Butterflies hibernate as adults, eggs, immature caterpillars or pupae. To survive the extremes of the climate (cold in the winter, heat and drought in the summer, especially in tropical habitats) butterflies undergo a rest period called the diapause during which the vital functions are kept at the very minimum. No growth or development occurs in the egg, caterpillar or pupae, and the adult butterfly just hangs in a suitable place motionless waiting for better conditions to arrive. Sorbitol and glycerol are known to exist in the blood of some butterflies, and they function as natural anti-freeze agents.

22. Why do butterflies migrate?
In temperate climates butterflies migrate to exploit new resources as the summer processes. Alternatively, the butterflies emerged in the summer search for a temperate enough place to over winter; Vanessa atalanta or Red Admiral is known to do this. Occasionally a migrant will establish a colony and over the years it will become a resident specimen; with climatologic change that is known to happen.
In the tropics where the season is not a factor, the butterflies migrate away to establish new colonies. Should they stay in the area where they emerged, their caterpillars would have too much competition of food and thus they would starve to death. So, they migrate for the interest of their progeny and this is the reason why most migration occurs.

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23. What can I do for the butterflies?
If you have a garden, you can make it butterfly friendly. On this website you’ll find advice how to get started. Click the links to go to
Create a Butterfly Garden
Butterfly Gardening Tips
Butterfly Friendly Plants

If you don’t have a garden you can write to the local city council or whoever is in charge of the public parks and put forward an idea of choosing butterfly friendly plants to the public parks.
Take a stand against butterfly collecting – butterfly collecting is one reason why so many beautiful butterflies are threatened these days. It is a cruel hobby, based on killing living animals.
Support butterfly photography and butterfly watching instead. Opinions matter.


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