18 Jun

The Why’s of Butterflies

Butterflies are wings of floating color when the weather gets warm. With over 14,000 different species, butterflies come in all shapes and sizes. Collectors have been cataloging and gathering thousands of different varieties for centuries. Some are amazing while others are downright deceptive. Many species have peculiar characteristics. Below are a few “why’s” associated with butterflies.

Monarch Butterfly

Perhaps the most easily recognized butterfly in America, Monarch butterflies really know how to travel. When the time is right, they back their bags and sets out on a 3,000 mile migration. A car trip covering the same distance would take more than two days of straight driving. Better bring the caffeine. The only chemicals Monarch butterflies use are from milkweeds. As the caterpillar form chews away at the plant, toxins are stored. When the adult emerges from the chrysalis those toxins remain concentrated throughout the wings and abdomen. Why the toxins? It makes them taste terrible. Predators quickly learn to avoid them. Eating one could cause a bird to throw up. If you’ve never seen something like that, your imagination is free to run wild.

1

Viceroy Butterfly

Much like teenagers wanting to wear popular clothes, the Viceroy Butterfly goes out of its way to look similar to a Monarch. Why the deception? Viceroys aren’t toxic at all. However wearing the same colors as their foul tasting neighbor makes predators wary enough to avoid them as well. Mimicry is a form of deception perfectly used by the Viceroy.

2

Owl Butterfly

The name says it all. While the Viceroy tries to fit in with the cool group, the Owl butterfly tries to look like a different species. First off they’re big. Owl butterflies have an 8-inch wingspan. That’s nearly the length of a loaf of bread. Their wings have massive eye spots and when folded out, they resemble an owl. Why the big eyed look? No one is entirely certain. A common theory is that the eye spots scare predators. Scientists speculate that perhaps the strange pattern is meant to confuse predators into attacking the less important sections of wing rather than the delicate body of the butterfly. Either way, the costume wins the prize.

3

Glasswinged Butterfly

Though rimmed with color, the interior wings are completely see-through. Why the glassy look? The Glasswings use this adaptation to blend in with their background. If that fails to keep a predator at bay, they use the same foul taste strategy of the Monarch. Glasswing eggs are laid on the deadly nightshade plant and the caterpillars feed on the toxic plant. Predators are soon washing their mouths out.

4

Orange OakLeaf Butterfly

The Orange Oakleaf has a serious case of now-you-see-me, now-you-don’t. Its wing colors are bright blues and orange. But the undersides look like dead leaves. Why the deception? A predator looking for a crunchy insect snack would never go after a leaf. The Oakleaf is good at camouflage. Another name for this bug is the Deadleaf Butterfly. With a simple twist of is wings it can vanish into a pile of dead leaves.

Predators are always a threat when you’re a Butterfly. Using a variety of methods, butterflies have flourished, despite being pretty low on the food chain. They have become one of nature’s most amazing insect species.

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