To round out this scale winged mini-series, I thought I would talk about a few interesting traits and behaviors that these insects embody. One is the difference between butterflies and moths.
An Atlas Moth (Attacus atlas) at rest. The wingspan on this insect is about 8 inches!
Did you know that butterflies create chrysalis and moths create cocoons? This is just one of many facts that distinguish moths from butterflies. Moths are also more active at night and butterflies more active in the day time, moths have hairier bodies, feathery antennae and generally rest with their wings flat while butterflies have less hairy bodies, smooth antennae, and generally rest with their wings up. Sometimes moths get a bad rap because they eat our sweaters and swarm our porch lights, but they are really interesting too – and sort of the underrated member of the Lepidoptera order.
Notice the Atlas moth’s body. It is very bulky, hairy, and so patterned.
A great interpretive sign at the UF Museum of Natural History on patterning and mimicry
Body patterns and markings such as bright colors and sections of wings that are camouflaged or that look like “eyes” all help protect the caterpillar, butterfly, or moth from predators. With an approximately 8 week total lifespan, there is no time to risk getting eaten!
This shot of newly hatched Atlas moths makes the transparent portions of their wings very evident. How cool is that for helping this huge moth blend in to it’s environment. Take another look at the previous atlas moth pictures and notice how the tree bark and sunlight show through these wing sections. This is a unique example of a camouflage technique.
On a less predatory and more collaborative note, I had no idea that some butterflies worked with ants! I knew ants would work with insects- such as farming aphids that provide the ants with sweet “honeydew” from plants- but I never considers butterflies working with other insects. They always seem so individual flitting about. This butterfly-ant relationship is called Myrmecophily which is defined as “an invertebrate or plant that has a symbiotic relationship with ants, such as being tended and protected by ants or living inside an ants’ nest.” I also had no idea that this ant farmer scenario had a scientific name! This family of butterfly found in Malaysia has a special relationship with certain ants that involves both food and protection. They are even invited to dine on ant larve in trade for a sweet juice secreted by the butterfly. Based on this information, and at risk of making light of this phenomenon, ants seem like sugar addicts to me – maybe I am part ant!
Another of the museum’s signs. Sorry it’s a bit fuzzy the light was quite low in there. It was just too interesting not to risk posting rookie photos!
The next few shots I just thought were so beautiful and all show butterflies with spots on their wings. These spots are surely used for more than beauty and most likely are a warning to predators to stay away or a visual distraction.
This is a Cattleheart or Montezuma (Parides montezuma) butterfly. Just like on street signs, red on insects is a warning.
This is a Cracker or Starry Night butterfly (Hamadryas laodamia). Aptly named because stars are exactly what I thought of when I saw this beauty.
Seeds to Sprout:
What kids can plant to attract butterflies blog
More on butterfly and ant myrmecophily
North American Butterfly Association Get your yard or garden certified as a butterfly habitat!
North Central FL NABA chapter butterfly documentation chart
University of Florida IFAS Extension butterfly gardening resource
A Crimson Patch butterfly (Chlosyne janais) drinking nectar from a penta flower.