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Aswallowail butterfly.jpg
Scientific Classification



Lepidoptera is the group of insects, which includes the butterflies and moths. They live in many parts of the world, but thrive particularly well in the tropics, with an exceptionally high number of species found in Peru.

Lepidopterans reproduces sexually and are perhaps best known for performing complete metamorphosis. In addition the butterflies are well known for their bright colored wings, which is the most striking feature that distinguishes them from moths.[1]



butterfly metamorphosis
The Lepidoptera is a unique insect in the way that it goes through a complete metamorphosis. A complete metamorphosis is when the larval of the animal and the adult seem as though they are two completely different animals. In the Lepidoptera the larval stage is in the form of a caterpillar and the adult stage of the insect is a butterfly. Through complete metamorphosis the insect goes through stages to change from a caterpillar to a butterfly.
Monarch Butterfly Cocoon
During one of these stages the caterpillar turns itself into a phase that is called the pupa. Through the pupa phase much of the tissues from the larva are broken down and the butterfly develops. During the different stages of complete metamorphosis the insect is specialized to live in different environments during the different stages. It also uses different food sources during the different stages. In the Lepidoptera the larva stage is used for feeding and growing and the adult stage is used for reproduction and dispersal. (Purves, 648)
Yellow Swallowtail larva
The Lepidoptera has many different characteristics that distinguish it from other species. Because the Lepidoptera has to go through complete metamorphosis they have many different characteristics or each stage. The first stage is the larva in which it has a tough head, a soft body and chewing mouthparts. The larvae also has 3 pairs of legs and also may have additional prolegs. Lepidopteran larvae can sometimes be confused with a sawfly, but can be distinguished by its prolegs, which the sawfly does not have. An adult Lepidoptera has two pairs of wings covered with scales. Some of the species of the Lepidoptera may have less wings or may be absent, but this mostly occurs in female rather than the male. The adult also have antennae, and proboscis, which is used for the sucking of nectar. The antennae of the moth is usually more feathery so that it is easier for the moth to detect pheromones, which is used in reproduction. [2]


In order for the Lepidoptera to reproduce the insects must use their sight to find their mate. In most species of the Lepidoptera the females and the males have different patterns on their wings, which can help distinguish the male from the female. Because the moth does not have as much color they depend on pheromones that are released by the female, that can be detected by the males antennae up to 12 miles away. When the lepidoptera finds its mate they bring the tips of their abdomens together and the male holds the female with small structures on his abdomen. The lepidopterans go through sexual reproduction in that the male uses his penis to pass the female his sperm. The sperm are then held in the female reproductive tract and are fertilized just before the female lays her eggs. In some species of the lepidoptera the butterfly lays its eggs in clusters on a leaf, but in many they leg their eggs individually on a plant where they know the young will have good nutrition. Once the egg hatches it will turn into a caterpillar, which is the first stage of complete metamorphosis. [3]


Lepidopteras inhabit an array of environments, but each for specific kinds of butterflies or moths. These different environments include forests, grasslands and deserts. Many of the Lepidopterans live in the tropics. Most species of moths enjoy the more woody environments unlike the butterfly, which likes the open, sunny environments.[4] The West-African butterfly has two places in which it likes to rest, but with that he also changes to two different colors to match those seasons. The first place in which it likes to live is the dry-season forest floor. This is where his color matches the dead brown leaves. The other place he likes to inhabit is the wet- season environment in which the butterflies appearance has a large eye on its wing, which confuses predators into thinking that is its actual eye.(Purves, 435-436)

Butterflies vs. Moths

One of the most obvious differences between butterflies and moths is the antennae. The antennae of the butterfly are more skinny and thin and have a ball at the end of them. The antennae of the moth are more feathery and are more comb like then the butterfly. Moths have a structure that is called a frenulum which is a filament that comes from the hindwing and couples with the forewing. This can only be seen when the moth is close by, but the butterfly lacks this structure. The moth usually spins a cocoon made of silk when the caterpillar is ready to metamorphosis, but butterflies on the other hand form a chrysalis, which is an exposed pupa. For the most part the coloration of the butterfly is brightly colored on their wings. The moth is usually more bland and doesn't have as much color. There are exception to this because there are some moths that are day-flying that are brightly colored. The body shape of a moth is usually smaller and hairy looking. The butterfly usually has a more skinny long body. The body of the moth appears more fluffy because of the scales they have on their wings. The butterfly usually has more fins scales on their body. [5]


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