10 min read

10 Facts That Will Make You Appreciate Butterflies Like Never Before

<p> whologwhy / <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/hulagway/6047918145/" target="_blank">Flickr</a>(<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/" target="_blank">CC BY 2.0</a>)<br> </p>

Butterflies are beautiful and possess some of the most striking color displays found in nature. Dancing and twirling from flower to flower, their colorful wings seem to shimmer and change color before our very eyes. Here are 10 obscure facts about our rainbow-winged friends you may not already know.

1. They have three pairs of legs.

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Two legs per pair; three times two equals six ... yes that's six legs in total - and humans struggle with two! Their feet have little claws to help them stand on flowers, and grip on with so they don't get blown away by big gusts of wind or flying objects. Some butterflies, like the peacock, only use four of their legs, carrying the two front legs against their bodies. They're clearly the most acrobatic species!

2. They mostly use their feet to taste, not their tongue.

Photo: Challiyl Eswaramangalath Pavithran Vipin / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 | Photo: Challiyl Eswaramangalath Pavithran Vipin / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

For humans this would be pretty disgusting and unhygienic, but for butterflies, despite having tongues that can be as long as their bodies, this is usual procedure. The reason why they primarily make use of their feet is because of the tiny sensory organelles that enable them to taste the flower as soon as they land on it. That's kind of like being able to taste a sandwich just by picking it up. Pretty neat!

3. They are cold-blooded.

Photo: Cassandra Jowett / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 | Photo: Cassandra Jowett / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Butterflies are technically of blue blood and can only feed or fly when their bodies are warmed up to a tropical 30 degrees! They are often seen basking with their wings wide open and adjust the angle accordingly to expose as much of the wing to sunlight as possible - similarly to a solar panel. Heat travels from the wings to the body via veins located in the wings themselves. Who needs a hot water bottle in winter when you could just cuddle a butterfly?

4. Antarctica is the only continent on the planet without them.

Photo: Christopher Michel / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 | Photo: Christopher Michel / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

You'd have thought Antarctica would've been the perfect place for these cold-blooded beauties, but not one can be seen across the white plane. Not just butterflies, but there are no insects in Antarctica at all because it is much too cold! The barren land has no trees or flowers which means no sources of food.

5. They can fly at speeds of up to 50 kilometers per hour (approx. 31 miles per hour).

Photo: djhsilver / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 | Photo: djhsilver / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Imagine a butterfly behind the wheel of a car? Because that's about the speed it would be going. That's the speed cars are required to reach when merging onto the motorway. Usain Bolt might want to take some tips!

6. They weigh as little as two rose petals.

Photo: Tambako The Jaguar / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0 | Photo: Tambako The Jaguar / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Although it would be funny to see one try, it's quite obvious that an elephant would not be able to stand on a plant without crushing it to death. Flowers are brittle and precious, as are the butterflies that feed on them. They have to be delicate in their approach in order to just take what is needed and move on, leaving no trace.

7. They get their color from two different sources.

Photo: Alain Picard / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0 | Photo: Alain Picard / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Ordinary color comes from normal chemicals that absorb some wavelengths of light and reflect others. An example of this is chlorophyll, which colors plants green. It soaks up the blue and red colors, but not the green, which is what you see when it bounces back to your eye.

Structural color is where things get more interesting. This is dependent on the specific structure of the individual butterflies' wings. The color can shift as the observer moves, an effect known as iridescence. You can also see this shimmery effect when looking through soap bubbles. It occurs when light passes through a transparent, multi-layered surface and is reflected more than once. The multiple reflections intensify the colors. This gives butterflies their trademark glittery beauty.

8. Their wings are actually transparent.

Photo: Eddy Van 3000 / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 | Photo: Eddy Van 3000 / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Butterfly wings are covered in thousands of microscopic scales that are split into two to three layers. Each of these scales has multiple layers that are separated by air. Due to iridescence, the more layers the wings have for light to pass through, the more times the light is reflected. The combination of all of these reflections is what causes the intense colors that you see in various species.

9. They get their different shades of brown and yellow from melanin.

Photo: Andrea / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 | Photo: Andrea / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Melanin is responsible for determining skin and hair color. It is auto-immune but can be affected by excessive exposure to sunlight, such as going on holiday to a hot country. It is what makes you tan. Most butterflies get their different shades of brown and yellow from the amount of melanin they have, so they don't have to hit the sun beds!

10. Caterpillars are boneless, but have over 1,000 muscles.

Photo: tinkerbrad / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 | Photo: tinkerbrad / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Scientists believe the human body only has 650 muscles. A caterpillar, approximately the same size as an adult finger, has almost twice as many. Makes you feel incredibly inferior doesn't it? But why does a creature so small need so many? Speed. They can move at an extremely quick pace which helps them to get away from predators!

By Rebecca MacDonald – Taylor Rebecca Macdonald - Taylor is an Online Journalism Intern at Frontier, an international non-profit volunteering NGO. Frontier has over 300 dedicated conservation and community development projects as well as plenty of inspiring www.frontier.ac.uk/Volunteer/Volunteer.aspx?utm_source=TheDodo&utm_medium=gapyearblog&utm_campaign=BlogArticle">gap year ideas to help make your time out meaningful. For more information on all the opportunities available please visit www.frontier.ac.uk. Check out Frontier's blog "Into the Wild" where you can read more articles like this! Happy reading!

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