What do butterfly wings tell us?

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Elegant, graceful and brightly colored. Butterflies are known all over the world the beauty of their wings. But what are these particular colors caused by? It’s really about “magic powder” which allows him to fly? And is it true that they only live one day after the transformation?

They tell us about their metamorphosis

When we see a butterfly fly from one flower to another, we are really just observing the last chapter of its life. In fact, he had to go through several stages of transformation before he showed off his colorful wings and took off. The first phase is the phase egg which after laying gives birth to a caterpillar.

The caterpillar spends most of its life, somewhat comparable to our childhood and adolescence, crawling from one bush to another hunting for leaves to eat. His only goal will be to feed himself as much as possible so that he can grow quickly.
Once sufficiently nourished, it attaches itself to the twig upside down and creates a silk thread to hold onto the twig.
At this moment it enters the so-called phase “cocoon” or “cocoon”: the caterpillar hangs upside down and its skin begins to harden to form a true protective armor.


This stage can last from several days to several months, then the butterfly will finally be able to break the envelope and fly away. And that will be the last phase of his existence. At this point, their goal becomes to fly from one flower to another throughout the day to feast on nectar and mate. Not a bad last day of life, right?

In fact, we need to debunk this myth: Butterflies don’t live for just one day.
First of all, starting to count their lifespan from the time they are adults would be a bit like starting to count our years from the day we become adults. It does not make any sence!

And then, to be honest, the adult life of a butterfly (when it has wings) is not at all as short as you think. It usually lasts a few weeks, but it can last several months and only rarely a few days.

And why the butterfly transforms

But why does the butterfly transform? What is the advantage? By metamorphosis, the individual will feed on different food at each stage of its life, and the adults will not have to compete with the younger ones in the search for food. In addition, the transformation allows him to use different foods available in nature according to the seasons.

In fact, the caterpillar generally feeds on leaves available in winter and spring, while the adult butterfly feeds on nectar available in spring and summer. And he does it through spirit drum: a type of extendable proboscis that it uses to suck nectar from flowers. As you can imagine, flying from flower to flower all day in search of nectar makes butterflies excellent pollinators.

Although there are many exceptions depending on the species. For example, some adult butterflies and moths do not feed at all, others can even drink the tears of other animals. He owns one curved spirithorn which they use to stimulate lacrimation in reptiles or birds and to suck tears directly from their eyes! Or even there vampire mothwhich, as you can probably guess from the name, sucks the blood of mammals.


Colored wings and defense methods

But is it true that butterflies fly thanks to dust on their wings? Actually no, and it’s not a powder either, it’s flakes.

It is no coincidence that the order to which butterflies (as well as moths) belong is called “lepidoptera“, from the Greek “glue”flakes and “pteron”wing.
All these scales placed next to each other form real mosaics on their wings, which differ in appearance and color according to the species to which they belong.


They are also a really sophisticated defense system that lepidopterans have developed to escape predators. For example, some species have evolved to acquire perfect colors mask with the surrounding environment. Like the Comma butterfly, a butterfly that looks like a dry leaf.

Dash butterfly

Other lepidopterans instead use a defensive method called Batesian mimicry: they pretend to be other dangerous animals, when in reality they are harmless. This is the case sit, moths disguised as bees and wasps.

Sit down

Then there are some butterflies that have big eyes painted on their wings, making them look like much bigger and more menacing animals.


But it does not end there, other species have evolved in such a way to be noticed by predators. It seems counterintuitive, but they are actually lepidopterans that can be poisonous and cause nausea and discomfort if ingested. Thanks to their bright and striking colors (so-called aposematic), so they inform predators of their danger to keep them away. It’s like they’re saying: eat me if you want, but at your own risk!

But we can be sure, because when the butterfly lands on us, nothing happens. They are poisonous only if ingested and only some species.

Moth or butterfly?

Both belong to the order Lepidoptera, but what is the difference between a moth and a butterfly? In fact, this distinction does not correspond to a scientific classification, but rather to common usage. To generally tell a butterfly from a moth, we can look at the wings. When butterflies are at rest, their wings remain closed, while moths have their wings spread. Additionally, moths are mostly nocturnal and more massive and hairy than butterflies.

All these small differences should not be taken as absolute truths, as there are many exceptions. It is for this reason that it is necessary to pay attention to the antennas, just to be sure. The ones from butterflies are clubs (they have a club-like swelling at the tip), while the antennae of moths are filamentous or comb-like.

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