Butterflies belong to a huge order of insects called Lepidoptera. Lepidoptera means 'scaly wings'. Their wings are covered by thousands of tiny scales. They live in all kinds of climates and temperatures. Some of the most beautifully colored ones live in tropical rainforests. There the climate is hot and humid and there are many flowering plants for food.
Butterflies help the environment in two ways. They are pollinators of flowers. That means they carry pollen from flower to flower so that they can reproduce. They also provide meals for frogs, bats, birds and lizards.
Butterflies go through four stages of life. In each stage they look different and each has a purpose. The length of time from egg to adult can range from a few weeks to a few years. The length depends on the type of butterfly. The female deposits the egg. The egg hatches and becomes a caterpillar. The butterfly caterpillar eats constantly and grinds its food with huge jaws. The caterpillar sheds its skin several times as it grows. The caterpillar then attaches itself to a branch by spinning a line of silk. Within twenty-four hours the caterpillar sheds its skin for the last time.
A pupa or chrysalis forms. Inside the butterfly chrysalis the adult parts of a butterfly are being formed. The chrysalis is usually green to blend in with plant life. The pupa or chrysalis case cracks open and an adult butterfly comes out. The butterfly dumps waste from its body and pumps blood into its wings. After about an hour it can fly.
Butterflies have three main body parts. The head contains the eyes, proboscis and the antennae. Their eyes don't see as we do, even though they can see in all directions. They can only see colors and motion. A proboscis is like a long tongue. Butterflies can use it to drink nectar from a flower. They can also use it to suck sap from leaves and stems. Butterflies use their antennae to smell.
The middle section of the butterfly is the thorax. Three pairs of jointed legs and two pairs of wings are attached to this part of the body. A butterfly's scales can be seen best on its wings. A brown powder will rub off the wing if touched. These will be scales. The colors and patterns on a butterfly's wings protect them from predators. Camouflage is the most common pattern.
The third section of a butterfly's body is the abdomen. It is soft and contains ten sections. It also holds a simple heart, reproductive organs, breathing spores and the digestive and excretory systems.
Males and females often look alike. Male butterflies search for mates with the correct color and pattern on their wings when they are ready to mate. After mating, a female flies off to look for a suitable plant for her eggs. The color and shape of the leaves help her make her decision. Some butterflies lay clusters of eggs and some just one.
In summary, butterflies are insects and belong to the order Lepidoptera. This word means 'scaly wings'. They are covered by thousand s of tiny scales. Butterflies live in all climates and temperatures. However, the most colorful live in hot tropical climates. Many flower producing plants are available for food in those regions.