Monarch butterflies fly through your area

Butterflies - ingenious quick-change artists

Some have velvet wings, others are transparent like glass. Some camouflage themselves as dead leaves, others stand out with their confused patterns and wild colors. The diversity and beauty of these insects have always amazed people. And the transformation from egg to caterpillar and pupa to butterfly is one of nature's greatest wonders.

Habitats: the warmer, the better

Butterflies are at home on all parts of the world, just not in Antarctica. They live in forests and meadows, on rivers and moors, in parks and gardens and also high in the mountains. Even in the Himalayas up to over 5,000 meters. But most species prefer tropical countries, where it is warm and humid and an abundance of plant species grows - so a richly laid table for butterflies. And of course their caterpillars.

Tiny and the size of a bird

Between 160,000 and 180,000 butterfly species have been discovered so far, but there is no exact number. And every year around 700 species are expected to be added - researchers will find what they are looking for, especially in the tropical rainforests. Only about 3,700 species live in Germany.
With such an infinite number of family members living far and wide, the differences in size are of course also extreme:
The dwarf leaf miner is considered to be the smallest butterfly in the world: its outstretched wings measure 3 millimeters.
The largest butterfly on earth lives in Central and South America: the giant owl, also known as the white witch, has a wingspan of 30 cm - 5 cm more than a blackbird measures from head to tail!
Not only most of the butterfly species, but also the largest, live in warm tropical areas. One family even has their size in their name: the bird butterflies, native to the rainforests of Southeast Asia and Australia.

Fast + Far: 2 records

The fastest butterflies the world are the swarmers - they jet through the air at 50 km / h, the winch swarmers even reach 100 km / h for a short time!
The longest hike the monarch butterfly undertakes: up to 4,000 km from North America and even Canada to Mexico to overwinter there with millions of conspecifics.

Survival: best by tricking, deceiving, camouflaging

As delicate creatures, butterflies are not very defensive and helplessly exposed to their main enemies, the birds. Actually. Because naturally, on the other hand, nature has come up with something ingenious: butterflies scare off their hunters with shrill colors and patterns. The message: Warning, I'm poisonous (by the way, caterpillars also work with this trick). Or they make themselves as invisible as possible with camouflage colors - for example as a dry leaf. The "disguise" as a completely different animal is particularly ingenious. For example one that the bird is afraid of. Like the nocturnal owl butterfly:

Nutrition? Especially liquid

Butterflies need flowering plants because they cannot chew, only suckle (with a few exceptions). To get to the nectar of the flowers, they have a long trunk that curls up under their head. In some species of butterflies, it is even longer than the body. And then if she has specialized in a flower with a long calyx. Insects and plants form a community of convenience almost everywhere: blossoms or fruits provide the nourishment and the insect carries the pollen from the plant to the next and thus ensures its reproduction.

With the eyes of an owl ...

... the owl butterfly cannot see, but it can scare off a voracious bird. Because on the underside of its wings large circles are "painted" that look like the eyes of an owl. The butterfly only needs to fold its four wings and the bird takes flight from the supposed owl. When the butterfly spreads its wings, an inconspicuous dark brown appears and it becomes almost invisible in the thicket of the rainforests of South America.

The miracle of transformation: the 4 lives of a butterfly

The egg

After the courtship dance and mating, the female lays the fertilized eggs - depending on the type of butterfly, there are between 30 and 1,000 eggs. They adhere to the underside of leaves and stems of the plant, on which the caterpillar can later feed. Butterfly eggs are as diverse as the insects themselves: sometimes round, oval or oblong, sometimes white, green, yellow or brown. Some species also drop the eggs on the ground. It is only important that they do not attract attention.

The Caterpillar

develops in the egg, after 2–3 weeks it bites the shell and starts to eat immediately. First the eggshell, then the leaves of your food plant. Eating and growing is the purpose of life for all caterpillars. But because the skin does not grow with it and eventually becomes too tight, the caterpillar sheds its skin. A total of 5–6 times.

The doll

With the last moult, the caterpillar eats its fill again - because then pupation begins, that is, it spins itself into a cocoon. Pupation can be very different depending on the species: some caterpillars dig into the ground, others hang upside down on a branch. Most butterflies live in the pupa 2–4 ​​weeks. However, some species also overwinter as a pupa, and the butterfly only hatches in spring.

The butterfly

In the pupa, the caterpillar transforms into a butterfly: it grows wings, legs, antennae and proboscis. And then the cocoon tears open and the butterfly crawls into the light with soft, folded wings. He looks for a safe place where he can pump air and blood into the wings so that they can unfold. It can take up to two hours for the wings and skin to be ready for the first flight.
However, the life of a butterfly is short: moths live on average 2–3 weeks old. However, there are also species that live a full year, such as the brimstone butterfly, which also flies around our gardens.
However, the individual life phases of tropical butterflies are rather short.

The greatest danger

to the butterfly we are humans. Through agriculture and fertilizer, deforestation and urban development, we have already exterminated or endangered many species. That is why we absolutely have to protect their habitats - both here and in the rainforests.

Last updated: May 30, 2019