I bet you’ve all heard many songs and poems about the beautiful, delicate, fluttering Butterflies. When kids see them flying in the garden and in pictures, they often tend to get attracted to the colourful little creature. Well, no offence to insects but it is too beautiful for an insect, isn’t it? Probably the only one that might be a favourite of many. So, here’s a quick trip through the basic information and some interesting facts about our beloved butterflies!
Classification and Range of Butterflies
Butterflies and moths belong to the same family. To try to make it as simple as possible to understand in detail for kids, let’s put it this way:
|Level of classification||Classification||An easy way to remember|
|Kingdom||Animalia||Since they are basically animals, right?|
|Phylum||Arthropoda||They do not have a spine, have multiple legs, a segmented body and a hard outer shell|
|Subphylum||Hexapoda||Since they’re six-legged|
|Class||Insecta||Because they are insects after all|
|Order||Lepidoptera||The word Lepidoptera comes from the Greek terms which mean ‘scales’ (lepídos) and ‘wing’ (ptera).|
It is said that there are more or less 20,000 species of butterflies ranging from really small to surprisingly big ones and toxic & non-toxic varieties. They come in a wide range of colours and characteristics which enables them to survive in a vast range of climates. They can be found on all continents except Antarctica.
Anatomy of Butterflies
- The size of butterflies varies anywhere from 0.5 inches to 11-12 inches. The largest butterflies in the world are normally females of a native species in New Guinea.
- A butterfly has three major parts of its body – the head, thorax (chest) and the abdomen.
- Its six legs are attached to the thorax, so are the two pairs of wings. Yes, butterflies have four wings, not two. They can taste and smell with their feet.
- They have two antennae that they use to smell, navigate and even know the time of the day.
- Butterflies do not have mouths, but instead, they have a long straw-like tongue called a proboscis. This helps them to drink nectar and juices.
- How do butterflies breathe? They don’t have a nose or even lungs. Butterflies have tiny holes called spiracles on their outer skeleton (or exoskeleton), through which they breathe in oxygen.
- They have compound eyes which gives them a wide field vision and allows them to see the Ultraviolet light which humans cannot see.
Facts about the Life Cycle and Life Span of Butterflies for Kids
One of the most interesting things about butterflies is their transformation from an egg to the charming winged creature. This process is known as metamorphosis.
- The transformation takes place in four major stages – egg, caterpillar, pupa and adult.
- Once a female butterfly lays its eggs on a plant, generally only one out of the hundreds survive.
- It takes a few weeks for the egg to hatch and the tiny caterpillar or larva crawls out of its egg. It begins by eating its eggshell and survives on eating leaves as most species are herbivores.
- The caterpillar eats and grows until it turns its biggest size and finally sheds its outer skin to reveal a hard-inner skin which is like a protective shell. At this time it attaches itself to a plant, generally the underside of a leaf. This is an exciting time because here’s where it undergoes metamorphosis until it develops wings.
- After emerging out of the hard shell called chrysalis, this now adult butterfly has soft crumpled wings. It has to let them dry and has blood flow in them before it can fly, fly away!
- An adult butterfly lives from a few days to a few years depending on the species, climate and when it was laid as an egg.
The lifespan of butterflies ranges from merely 3-4 days to even a year. The average lifespan is generally 8-10 weeks.
What Do Butterflies Eat?
- Unlike caterpillars who keep munching on leaves, butterflies live on a liquid diet.
- They drink and sip on flower nectar and juices from fruits. Basically, if it dissolves in water, a butterfly can eat it.
- Although some butterflies also eat tree sap, pollen, rotten fruit and dung. You’ll also find some enjoying the salts and minerals in muddy waters and sweat.
When and How Do They Fly?
Haven’t you wondered where do the butterflies go at night? Not all species disappear at nights, but most of them will fly during the day. There is, but, one tricky part here. They are cold-blooded creatures, and the optimum body temperature of 82 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit is required for them to be able to fly. Hence, when it’s cold, they need to soak up in the sun to warm up their body until they can fly.
Butterflies get their erratic wing flapping pattern from contracting the muscles in their body. The smart thing about their flying pattern is that the birds and predators cannot predict the direction in which they will fly. Many butterflies can fly at a speed ranging from 5-12 miles per hour.
Behaviour of Butterflies
- Butterflies play a crucial role in flower pollination. Their feet help them to taste their food as well as smell to help in mating.
- Most butterflies spend their lifetimes eating and mating.
- The females lay eggs on the plants that would be a good meal for the future caterpillars.
- A butterfly can see things up to 12 feet far, and anything farther becomes blurry. They mostly see reds, greens and yellows.
- They use the colours on their wings to camouflage in the plants and also to attract potential mates in their close radius.
Do They Migrate?
- Some long-living species like the Monarch butterfly are known to migrate long distances like a thousand miles to shift base to a warmer region in winters.
- They fly from Great Lakes all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
- A single butterfly can never make the entire journey, and it takes about 5-6 generations of the butterflies to migrate to their destination, from where they make a return during the spring.
How Do They Protect Themselves?
- Even though the majority of butterflies do not need to protect themselves for too long owing to their short lifespan, they have their clever defence mechanisms handy.
- The most common way of protection is hiding in plain sight. Yes, camouflage.
- Some butterflies like the Monarch can also make itself taste mad for its predator.
- Other witty ways of defence are bad smell and mimicry of the toxic variety.
- The scales on their wings are easy to come off, and it makes it easy for them to slip out of a predator’s grip.
- The flying pattern and speed also help them to get off the birds’ radar.
Other Interesting Butterfly Facts for Kids
- So, how did Butterfly get its name? It is said that these insects would appear around the milk in farms when it was being churned into butter. Hence, the name.
- Another fact says that the term butterfly was first used for the bright yellow, butter coloured Brimstone.
- You must have noticed that the colour of a butterfly’s wings comes off and sticks to your fingers when you hold it. One of the interesting butterfly facts for preschoolers is the reason for this. The sight of their colourful wings transports us to our childhoods no matter what age we are. A butterfly’s wings are actually a translucent membrane. The colours that we see are because of the many scales on them. That colour on our fingers is nothing but the shed scales. They can still fly, but if you’re just trying to show some love, please take care that you touch and hold it gently.
- The beautiful Greta Oto butterfly, aka the glass-winged butterfly, has the most transparent wings.
- The antenna has light receptors which help them determine whether it’s day or night. These also aid them in navigation and guidance with their direction of flying.
- In ancient Egyptian frescos, butterfly representations are found that date about 3500 years back. It is said that they have been around for over 56 million years.
- One of the interesting caterpillar facts for kids is that some of them eat insects too. There is fascinating folklore about the woolly bear caterpillar. They say, the longer the bands on the woolly bear, the colder the winter will be.
- In addition to the migration fame, one amongst some other monarch butterfly facts for kids is that this species is native to America. It only spread across the world through various means in or before the nineteenth century.
- The Monarch butterfly eats milkweed so that it tastes bad to one who tries to eat it.
- The species that are known to live the longest are Mourning Cloaks, Heliconians, Monarchs and the Painted lady. These can live as long as 9-12 months. While the Brimstone butterfly can also survive for up to 14 months.
- The painted lady is known to have migrated the longest distances.
- One of the earliest signs of spring is spotting a brimstone butterfly which can survive the winter.
- The female butterflies are generally bigger in size than the males, and they also live longer.
- The Western Pygmy Blue is the smallest butterfly in the world.
- The largest in the world is the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing with a wingspan of 12 inches.
- The fastest flying butterflies are the Skippers who can fly at up to 30 miles per hour.
Now that you’ve gathered quite a handful of interesting facts about butterflies, you can try to plant some lovely flowers and plants in your yard to invite those beautiful creatures.