Butterfly Biology

Taxonomic position

Kingdom: Animal.
Subkingdom: Metazoan.
Phylum: Arthropoda.
Class: Insects.
Order: Lepidoptera
Lepidoptera wings covered with scales. The word comes from Greek Lepis = scale /pteron = wing.
The day butterflies belong to the group  Rophalocero and the nocturnal butterflies or moths the Heterocero.

Life Cycle

The butterflies and moths undergo a complete metamorphosis. Its life cycle consists of four stages: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis or cocoon) and adult. After mating,adult females of most species lay their eggs on a specific plant species (host), which serves as food for the larvae when they hatch.

The eggs are oval or spherical. When they hatch, the larvae hatch with an elastic cylindrical body, simple eyes, chewing mouthparts and three pairs of true legs on the thorax and 5 in the abdomen. Eat continuously, periodically shed their skin as they grow to multiply hundreds of times its original size, and after 25 to 45 days depending on species, lost legs abdomen, stop feeding and reach the stage where they weave their cocoons or become pupae. During this phase, the structure transforms completely;reorganize their internal systems and external structure develops in adults, which is the butterfly in its sexual maturity. The body has three parts: head, thorax and abdomen.

On the head are the organs of vision, feeding and orientation, formed by a pair of antennae with receptors for smell, a pair of well developed compound eyes and a tongue into a tube coiled in a spiral or sucking proboscis, also called espiritrompa .

The thorax has two pairs of membranous wings covered with tiny scales and three pairs of legs that can fly and land on plants and a variety of substances that serve as food such as nectar, pollen, overripe fruit, carrion, dung , urine and other animal and plant exudates.

The abdomen contains the organs of digestion and reproduction.

The butterflies carry pollen from flowers to various plants which help to pollinate, they take part of the food chain of living beings and are indicators of ecological diversity and health of the ecosystems they inhabit.

Very well studied by the fans, who have provided extensive information on their distribution and biology, butterflies have become a key test group for ecological and evolutionary research. Are well suited for genetic research in the laboratory, it is easy to track them in the country and are believed to be representative of most herbivorous insects, the most important competitors of humanity for food.

Difference between Day Butterflies and Nigh Butterflies or Moths

Day butterlies (Lepidoptera rophalocero)

They have no scales filiform antennae with a club at the end.

Their wings often display bright colors tend to stay together over the back at rest. Almost all butterflies fly by day, but some tropical species do it at dawn or at sunset.

The largest (native Melanesia) have up to 30 cm in size, the smallest may measure 3 mm.

Nigth butterflies or Moths (Lepidoptero Heterocero)

Antennas are varied, but often are feathery.

For the most part have browns and most fly by night, although many do it during the day, especially in cold climates.

Its apparent attraction to light sources at night is a reflection: the movement of the wings on the sunlit side is reduced, which makes them turn toward the light.

The biggest night butterfly, belonging to an area of Asia, can exceed 30 cm in size, while the wings of the smallest measures just a few millimeters.


The ancestors of butterflies lived between the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, between 150 and 75 million years ago. There are few fossils of butterflies and moths. There have been found two specimens of moths in early Cretaceous amber. The fossils of the oldest butterflies come from Green River Shale, Colorado and have about 48 million years old. Currently, the order of butterflies and moths consists of four suborders. Over 98% of the species belong to the suborder Nymphalidae.

Migration and Hibernation

The butterflies migrate for various reasons: to avoid overcrowding, find a new habitat or seasonal change.

The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) flies from Canada and the USA to California and Mexico, forming large concentrations.

One of the most widespread species in the world is Cynthia cardui, which can fly up to 1000 km European populations traveling to north each spring.

Hibernation may occurs at any stage of the life cycle.

Many species of butterflies are endangered by the pressure of the man who has removed or destroyed many ecosystems habitats, polluted places where they previously lived. Some populations have fallen dramatically and some are on the verge of total disappearance.


The main enemies of the butterflies in their immature stages are beetles, praying mantises, ants, wasps and clinches. In the adult stage, birds, spiders, hedgehogs, toads, shrews, dragonflies, lizards, mice, frogs and bats.

The parasites also causes serious damage in some populations.



Some terms used frequently when talking about butterflies, we show some to help you understands our web site:

Androconia: modified wing scales (usually males) that expel a fragance called pheromone.

Sexual dimorphism: differences in shape, size and color between males and females of the same species.

Chremaster: upper extremity of the pupa, where the silk is attached to the plant.

Emerge: Sprout, exit, hatch.

Endemic: They belong exclusively to a particular country or territory

Suck: suck nectar from flowers

Longevity: how can last the life

Instar: Stage of larval life cycle, based on changes in size, coloration and molt.

Neotropics: biographical region comprising the tropical zone stretching from southernMexico through Central America, including the Antilles, to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.

Ocellus: simple eye of insects. Also the spots usually roundedand black with the center located a clear spot on the wings of some butterflies.

Oviposition: Put the eggs

Parenting: Generation that generates another

Perch: Relax, settle.

Host plants: botanical species where butterflies lay their eggs.

Food plants: botanical species that are fed for larvae

Trap Plants: host plant pots.

Nectar plants: botanical species with flowers that contain nectar for butterflies.

Ration of the sexes: male-female proportion

Taxonomy: The science of classifying animals, plants and other beings.

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