Butterflies: Colourful, Flying Little Creatures

by Sally Hopkins

Butterflies belong to the vast order of Lepidoptera.

Their wings consist of a double membrane, supported by ribbing, and are usually triangular, with more or less rounded corners, and a surface covered with scales.  These contain the pigments responsible for the diverse, fascinating colours that characterize butterflies. 

The patterns of the ribbing and colours identify different species. 

The antennae, another characteristic feature, vary greatly in length and form. 

Like other insects, adult butterflies have an exoskeleton and a body divided into head, thorax and abdomen, but before they reach that stage, the pass through two others: 

1.  The larval form, or caterpillar

2.  Pupa, a static, non-feeding form in which the trasnformation from caterpillar to 'imago', the adult form, takes place. 

There are literally thousands of species of butterfly, split into several families. 

The papilionidi numbers about 500 species, distributed in tripical and subtropical regions. 

The Nymphalidi, with over 5,000 species, are the largest family, with a great diversity of colours. 

The Licenidi number at least 5,000 species.  Usually small, they are very colourful in red, green, blue and black. 

The Hesperides are characterized by very fast flight. 

The Satyridi number approximately 1,500 species, in which the colours brown and orange dominate on the upper part of both wings. 

The family of Pieridi number over 1,000 species distributed worldwide. 

The butterfly is the symbol of Malaysia.  In 1993, Butterfly Park opened in the centre of Kuala Lumpur, the capital. 

An area of tropical (not equatorial) forest holds 8,000 butterflies, representing 150 species. 

Smaller areas where people can enjoy butterflies in recreated habitats exist all over the world, in zoos or as seperate attractions. 

On the Greek island of Rhodes is a valley known as the "valley of the butterflies".  The Pelech river ensures the valley a very special microclimate:  wet and cool during the hot summer months.  These are ideal conditions for the concentration in July and August of millions of Panaxia quadripunctaria, reddish brown moths a few centimetres in size belonging to the family of Arctidi. 

In Ahrntal, in the mountains of the South Tyrol, it is possible to meet the Erebia:  these butterflies have far from eye-catching coloration, but are hard to miss in this multi-coloured landscape. 

As you walk along the paths, from those of the valley bottom to the edges of the woods at height in the mountain moorland, going through glades, damp meadows and rocky slopes, you can be surrounded by clouds of hundreds of these little flying creatures!