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Beautiful Butterflies

14 May 2019

As the weather warms up we start to see more creatures emerging and buzzing around us. The 1st of June is Butterfly day! Here’s some interesting things you may not know about these beautiful mini-beasts!

Butterfly wings are transparent...

A butterfly’s wings are made layers of chitin, the same protein that makes up an insect’s exoskeleton. These layers are so thin you can see right through them. These wings are covered by thousands of tiny scales that reflect light in different colours.

Butterflies taste with their feet...

Butterflies have taste receptors on their feet to help them find their host plants and locate food. A female butterfly lands on different plants, drumming the leaves with her feet until the plant releases its juices. Spines on the back of her legs have chemoreceptors that detect the right match of plant chemicals. When she identifies the right plant, she lays her eggs. Butterflies live on an all-liquid diet...

Adult butterflies only feed on liquids, usually nectar. Their mouthparts are modified to enable them to drink, but they can’t chew solids. A proboscis, which functions as a drinking straw, stays curled up under the butterfly’s chin until it finds a source of nectar or other liquid nutrition. It then unfurls the long, tubular structure and sips up a meal.

A butterfly must assemble its mouth as soon as it emerges from the chrysalis...

One of its first jobs as an adult butterfly is to assemble its mouthparts. When a new adult emerges from the pupal case or chrysalis, its mouth is in two pieces. Using palpi located adjacent to the proboscis, the butterfly begins working the two parts together to form a single, tubular proboscis. You may see a newly emerged butterfly curling and uncurling the proboscis over and over, testing it out. Butterflies drink from mud puddles...

A butterfly cannot live on sugar alone; it needs minerals, too. To supplement its diet of nectar, a butterfly will occasionally sip from mud puddles, which are rich in minerals and salts.

Butterflies can’t fly if they’re cold...

Butterflies need an ideal body temperature of about 30ºC to fly. Since they’re cold-blooded animals, they can’t regulate their own body temperatures. The surrounding air temperature has a big impact on their ability to function. If the air temperature falls below 12ºC, butterflies are rendered immobile, unable to flee from predators or feed. Cooler days require a butterfly to warm up its flight muscles, either by shivering or basking in the sun. Even sun-loving butterflies can get overheated when temperatures soar above 37°C and may seek shade to cool down.

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