A group of butterflies can be called a kaleidoscope, flutter, flight, swarm, or wing. According to the Smithsonian Institution, there are roughly 750 species of butterflies in the United States, and 17,500 butterfly species in the world spread across every continent except Antarctica. Butterflies vary greatly in shape, size, and color. The smallest are only .12 inches across while the largest can reach a full foot.
Butterflies often gather in groups for food and nourishment. They come together around mud puddles, rotten fruit, and even dung and dead animals to replenish fluids and acquire nutrients like sodium that would otherwise be hard to come by on their natural diet of pollen.
During so-called super blooms — periods where flowers blossom in unusually great numbers — butterflies will swarm the area to take advantage of the readily available pollen. Painted lady butterflies, for instance, have been known to descend on fields of California wildflowers in massive numbers on their way up from Mexico.
Butterflies can also be seen in large groups while migrating. Monarchs famously migrate south to Mexico from Canada every winter, but cold climates aren’t the only reason why butterflies migrate. American snout butterflies, for instance, usually migrate during periods of drought
It’s common knowledge that a butterfly egg hatches into a caterpillar that then forms a chrysalis before transforming into a butterfly. Less well known is how a caterpillar knows when to change to the next life cycle. The secret is a chemical referred to as juvenile hormone. A caterpillar’s brain produces this chemical from hatching, and until it stops, the insect will continue to eat, shed, and grow. Once the hormone is no longer being produced. However, the caterpillar knows it’s time to create its chrysalis. It sheds one last time, only now a hard shell forms around it. The caterpillar does not emerge until it has shifted its cells successfully around into the form of a butterfly.
Butterflies have numerous adaptations that help them survive. While most butterflies emerge from their chrysalides — the plural of chrysalis — in 10 to 15 days, those in colder regions will remain inside until the temperature is warm enough for them, with some even waiting years to come out. Others survive the winters as adults by creating a chemical similar to antifreeze that preserves their bodies through cold temperatures.
Butterflies have excellent vision and can navigate around objects easily. The wings of moths and butterflies are clear. What gives them their color are tiny scales that no other insect has. The skipper butterfly can fly fast enough to outrace a horse.
Differences Between Moths and Butterflies
Moths and butterflies are related, but there are key differences between them. Moths are nocturnal, meaning they’re active at night while butterflies are diurnal like people, meaning they’re awake during the day. Moth caterpillars form cocoons covered in silk rather than the hard chrysalides of butterflies. Moths tend to be stout, fuzzy, and less colorful while butterflies are sleek, smooth, and bright. Finally, butterflies fold their wings back while at rest while moths keep them spread by their sides.
Butterflies help all life on the planet by cross-pollinating flowers. However, expanding cities and farmlands endanger butterfly food sources and habitats. Other sources of danger exist as well. For instance, the monarch butterfly is threatened by the pollen of genetically engineered corn made to resist other insects. While efforts are ongoing to replant the flowers needed to sustain butterfly populations, many butterfly populations continue to decline.