Butterflies are insects and members of the order Lepidoptera. They number several thousand species ranging from California's tiny blue pygmy butterfly, which possesses a wingspan of just over 1/2 inch, to New Guinea’s Queen Alexandra's birdwing, which boasts a wingspan of 1 foot. Butterflies inhabit every continent except Antarctica.
Young butterflies undergo a dramatic transformation process known as metamorphosis, by which the creatures, once hatched from their eggs, undergo several distinct stages of development (caterpillar, pupa and adult). The adult butterfly has an extremely short lifespan that may only number a couple of weeks. Monarchs and other species that travel to warmer regions for the winter months often have longer lifespans.
There are several curious features of a butterfly's anatomy. For example, despite their colorful appearance, butterfly wings are actually transparent structures covered with colorful scales. These scales may fall off with age, revealing the see-through wings. An even more unusual facet of the butterfly's anatomy is its ability to use its feet for tasting. The creature's feet possess special taste receptors that enable the butterfly to sample the different plants it lands on. Female butterflies can use such foot samplings to determine the best place to lay their eggs.