What type of butterfly or moth is this?

What type of butterfly or moth is this?

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Can anyone please determine if this is a moth or butterfly and what its name? We found it near a waterfall in the Philippines. There's actually a bunch of them and it seems that it's their natural habitat which is close to the waterfall and a stream along.

That is a butterfly known as a "Mapwing". It is in the family Nymphalidae. I'm pretty sure it is Cyrestis maenalis.

What's the Difference Between a Moth and a Butterfly?

Moths and butterflies both belong to the order Lepidoptera, but there are numerous physical and behavioral differences between the two insect types.

On the behavioral side, moths are nocturnal and butterflies are diurnal (active during the day). While at rest, butterflies usually fold their wings back, while moths flatten their wings against their bodies or spread them out in a "jet plane" position.

Their pupal stage (between the larva and adult stages) is slightly different, too. Here, moths make cocoons that are wrapped in silk coverings. Butterflies, on the other hand, form chrysalises, which are hard, smooth and silkless.

Physical differences abound. Butterfly antennae are thin with club-shaped tips, compared with the feathery or comb-like antennae of moths. Moths are stout and fuzzy butterflies are slender and smooth.

And wing colorations between the insect types are generally polar opposites, with butterflies sporting more vibrant colors. Additionally, moth wings, unlike butterfly wings, have a structure called a frenulum, which joins the forewing to the hind wing.

Though these various traits usually distinguish a butterfly from a moth, there are numerous exceptions to these rules. The Madagascan sunset moth, for example, is brightly colored and active during the day.


Global warming has advanced the timing of biological events, potentially leading to disruption across trophic levels. The potential importance of phenological change as a driver of population trends has been suggested. To fully understand the possible impacts, there is a need to quantify the scale of these changes spatially and according to habitat type. We studied the relationship between phenological trends, space and habitat type between 1965 and 2012 using an extensive UK dataset comprising 269 aphid, bird, butterfly and moth species. We modelled phenologies using generalized additive mixed models that included covariates for geographical (latitude, longitude, altitude), temporal (year, season) and habitat terms (woodland, scrub, grassland). Model selection showed that a baseline model with geographical and temporal components explained the variation in phenologies better than either a model in which space and time interacted or a habitat model without spatial terms. This baseline model showed strongly that phenologies shifted progressively earlier over time, that increasing altitude produced later phenologies and that a strong spatial component determined phenological timings, particularly latitude. The seasonal timing of a phenological event, in terms of whether it fell in the first or second half of the year, did not result in substantially different trends for butterflies. For moths, early season phenologies advanced more rapidly than those recorded later. Whilst temporal trends across all habitats resulted in earlier phenologies over time, agricultural habitats produced significantly later phenologies than most other habitats studied, probably because of nonclimatic drivers. A model with a significant habitat-time interaction was the best-fitting model for birds, moths and butterflies, emphasizing that the rates of phenological advance also differ among habitats for these groups. Our results suggest the presence of strong spatial gradients in mean seasonal timing and nonlinear trends towards earlier seasonal timing that varies in form and rate among habitat types.

Identification of Common Butterflies

Wingspan 3.5 - 4.5"
Common throughout the park but especially in the riparian areas. Can sometimes be see in great numbers drinking and sunning along the water.

Wingspan 3.5 - 4.5"
Common throughout the park but especially in the riparian areas. Can sometimes be seen in great numbers drinking and sunning along the water.

BLACK SWALLOWTAIL (Papilio polyxenes coloro)
Wingspan 2.5 - 3.5 "
Common throughout the park. Males can be seen on the mesatops perched on low vegetation waiting for females to pass by.

MONARCH (Danaus plexippus)
Wingspan 3.3 - 3.7"
Common throughout the park especially in spring and fall during migration. Is toxic to many predators.

QUEEN (Danaus gilippus)
Wingspan 2.4 - 2.6"
Looks very similar to Monarch which deters predators. Common in park especially along the Rio Grande.

WEIDEMEYER'S ADMIRAL (Basilarchia weidemeyerii)
Wingspan 2 - 2.4"
Common in the canyons of the park and higher elevations. Males wait on low tree limbs waiting for females to fly past. They will "attack" passing hikers who disturb them.

CALIFORNIA SISTER (Adelpha bredowii)
Wingspan 2.5 - 2.9"
Common in the riparian areas. Males wait on low tree branches for females to pass by. They can "attack" passing hikers as well.

MARINE BLUE (Leptotes marina)
Wingspan .7 - .9"
Extremely common in the riparian zones of the park all summer long.

SARA ORANGETIP (Anthocharis sara)
Wingspan 1 - 1.3"
Common in the early to late spring. Rarely perches for more than a very short time.

ACMON BLUE (Plebejus acmon)
Wingspan .7 - .8"
Common along riparian zones within the park. Most frequently seen blue.

Wingspan 2 - 2.4 "
Common during mid to late summer, especially in the canyons and higher elevation. Can be found in large congregations in some locations.

CANYONLAND SATYR (Cyllopsis Pertepida)
Wingspan 1 - 1.2"
Common in the riparian zone, usually in heavy vegetation.

WESTERN TAILED BLUE (Everest comments)
Wingspan .7 - .9"
Common in spring, early summer in the riparian areas. Can congregate in large numbers.

GRAY HAIRSTREAK (Strymon melinus)
Wingspan .8 - 1"
Common in the riparian zone and along the Rio Grande.

JUNIPER HAIRSTREAK (Mitoura grynea siva)
Wingspan .8 - .9"
Extremely common both in the canyons and on the mesas. Often seen at a variety of flowers. Easy to photograph as it isn't shy.

MOURNING CLOAK (Nymphalis antiopa)
Wingspan 2.5 - 2.7"
Most common early in the spring but can be seen most of the year. Can be seen as early as mid-February on a warm, sunny day. These butterflies overwinter in their adult stage tucked into spaces under loose bark.

SATYR COMMA (Polygonia satyrus)
Wingspan 1.6 - 1.8"
Most common in spring but found all summer long. Feeds on decaying vegetative material more than pollen. Often seen sunning themselves on downed logs and leaves.

CALIFORNIA TORTOISESHELL (Nymphalis californica)
Wingspan 1.5 - 1.7"
Spring only. Sporadic, there are years when they are numerous and others when they are nearly absent.

ORANGE SULFUR (Colias eurytheme)
Wingspan 1.4 - 1.7"
Common all spring and summer throughout the park.

WESTERN PYGMY BLUE (Brephidium exile)
Wingspan .5 - .6"
Smallest butterfly in North America. Common in late summer, fall especially in the riparian zones.

REAKIRT'S BLUE (Hemiargus isola)
Wingspan .7 - .8"
Can be found all summer and early fall. Less common than other blues in the park. Mostly found in the riparian zones and higher elevations.

COMMON WOOD-NYMPH (Cercyonis pegala)
Wingspan 1.7 - 1.9"
Frequently seen in the woodsy riparian areas. Rarely sits still where it can be seen.


Taphonomic trends

We assess the influence of taphonomy and taxonomic affiliation on the lepidopteran fossil record. Our analyses of 4,593 specimens assigned to the Lepidoptera was sourced from the latest catalog of fossil and subfossil specimens [32], including updated corrections [33]. Of the 4,593 specimens in the database, 985 (21.4%) were assigned to a superfamily, based on identifications of fossil specimens from the primary literature or in subsequent reviews. Only 328 of these fossil specimens belonged to superfamilies that are known to occur in the fossil record, based on 236 described, fossil lepidopteran species. Of the total number of specimens, 4,262 (92.8%) were body fossils and 331 (7.2%) specimens were trace fossils. When the body-fossil fraction of 4,262 specimens were sorted by preservational type, 52.0% (2,218) were compression–impression fossils and 40.0% (1,646) were inclusions in amber and copal both preservational modes represented 92.0% of all lepidopteran body fossils (Figure 1A). Of the remaining body fossils, 7.0% (298) were sieved residues, representing mostly specimens from Pliocene–Pleistocene glacial deposits. All other types of preservation consisted of asphaltum and tar sands, gut contents and coprolites, peat and lignites, salt deposits, and silica and other types of permineralization, which collectively accounted for somewhat less than 1% (100) of body-fossil preservational types (Figure 1A).

Within trace fossils, preservational types consisted principally of compression–impression fossils, representing 55.6% (184) of the total, whereas amber–copal inclusions contributed 34.1% (113), both of which accounted for 89.7% of all specimens (Figure 1B). In addition, the most frequent occurrence of trace fossils was leaf mines, representing 57.1% (178), followed by larval cases (33.5%, 111), and larval frass (9.4%, 31) (Figure 1B). Leaf-mines were predominantly preserved as compressions or impressions (55.0%, 176), whereas larval cases and frass were recovered almost exclusively from amber (34.4%, 110) silica and other forms of permineralization constituted a subordinate preservational type (9.4%, 30). All other preservational types were minor, representing 1.2% (4) of the total (Figure 1B).

The 4,561 lepidopteran fossils whose age is known spanned a time interval ranging from the Early Jurassic to the Holocene, or ca. 195 million years. During this interval there are two elevated frequency peaks in their distribution (Figure 1C). One elevated mode of 1,901 specimens is in the Paleocene, and the other subequal mode of 1,824 specimens occurs during the Eocene. A minor peak of 340 specimens is present in the Pleistocene to Holocene. Other than these three peaks, the number of recovered lepidopteran fossils consistently was less than 120 specimens. The composition of preservational types significantly varied among geologic epochs, seven of which (Early Jurassic, Middle Jurassic, Late Jurassic, late Paleocene, Oligocene, middle Miocene, Pliocene) consisted predominantly or almost entirely of compression–impression body fossils (Figure 1C Table 1). Middle and late Eocene fossils (n = 1,730) overwhelmingly consisted of body inclusions in amber and Pliocene + Pleistocene deposits overwhelmingly were composed of sieved residues (Figure 1C Table 1).

Lepidopteran fossils have been found from 145 localities worldwide. From a sort of the localities by geologic age, the greatest numbers, in decreasing rank order, were the (1) early Miocene (31 localities), (2) Pleistocene + Holocene (23 localities), (3), middle and late Eocene (22 localities), and (4) early Oligocene (15 localities). These occurrences all originate from the Cenozoic and indicate the importance of the pull-of-the-recent [47] in evaluating lepidopteran diversity patterns.

A total of 985 lepidopteran fossils have been assigned to 23 extant superfamilies (Figure 2 Table 2), of which the 214 affiliated with the Tineoidea were most numerous, followed by Papilionoidea (142), Noctuoidea (110), and Nepticuloidea (103). Nevertheless, fossil preservational type varies significantly by superfamily in most cases, one or sometimes two preservation types were dominant (Table 1). The seven superfamilies of Bombycoidea, Cossoidea, Hepialoidea, Noctuoidea, Pterophoroidea, Pyraloidea and Zygaenoidea provided preservational types that predominantly or exclusively occurred in lacustrine deposits. By contrast, the nine superfamilies of Adeloidea, Gelechioidea, Lophocoronoidea, Micropterigoidea, Mnesarchaeoidea, Tineoidea, Thyridoidea, Tortricoidea and Yponomeutoidea were represented entirely or predominantly in amber and copal resins that typically originate from forested ecosystems. The three superfamilies of Gracillarioidea, Nepticuloidea and Tischerioidea were dominantly represented by leaf mines.

Diversity trends

The family-level diversity of Lepidoptera increases significantly toward the recent [47], and the highest diversity values of the Pliocene–Pleistocene remain significantly lower than their extant family-level diversity (Figure 4). Our data show a relatively low linear correlation (Table 2, R 2 = 0.729) between the increase in family diversity of Lepidoptera and geologic time, attributable to considerable Cenozoic diversity fluctuation for lepidopteran families. This relationship has a better fit under an exponential model (Table 2, R 2 = 0.9027). The Trichoptera alone (Figure 4) and the Amphiesmenoptera of the Trichoptera + Lepidoptera (Figure 3) also exhibit a family-level diversity increase that is poorly fitted to a linear regression (Table 3, R 2 = 0.8302 and 0.7138 respectively). By contrast, for the Hymenoptera and Diptera, family-level increases assume a linear trajectory (Figure 4 and Table 3, R 2 = 0.9588 and 0.9109 respectively). The Coleoptera demonstrates that both linear and exponential models explain well their family-level diversity increase (Figure 4 and Table 3).

Description and Identification


The mature larva has a green to bluish-green coloration, with a black ring and small black pints around the spiracles. It also has a lateral row of dashes and a yellow mid-dorsal line, both in yellow. As an adaptation for camouflage, their green coloration makes them almost invisible to predators, when they sit on the leaves.

The chrysalis is greenish in color that changes to pale green to light brown with aging and remain attached to the host plant leaves.

Adult Butterfly

Sexual Dimorphism: Present

Color and Appearance: When the wings are open, the dorsal side in the male displays a creamy white coloration with a single black spot on the primary wings, whereas the female is rather pale yellowish, with two black spots placed somewhere around the center. When the wings are closed, the ventral side exhibits a yellowish tinge along with some black speckles.

Average wingspan: 32 to 47 mm (1.3 to 1.9 in)

Flight pattern: Rapid and erratic

Yellow in color with an elongated, bottle-like shape and an uneven surface, laid one at a time

Common Buckeye, Junonia coenia

Preferred Host Plants
Snapdragons, Toadflax, Plantains, Wild Petunia

Preferred Nectar Source
Asters, Chicory, Knapweed, Tickseed Sunflower, Dogbane (poisonous), Gumweed, Peppermint

19 Before And After Photos Of Butterfly And Moth Transformations

The animal kingdom is full of beautiful and mysterious processes, but few are more captivating and beautiful than the butterfly metamorphosis. A caterpillar turning into a butterfly is indeed a mesmerizing conversion.

Perhaps even more amazing than the drastic transformation is how it happens. Inside their cocoons, the caterpillars are completely liquified, retaining only rudimentary &ldquoplates&rdquo that are the starting points for essential features like the wings and eyes. Even though they are reduced to a protein soup, studies have indicated that some butterflies can retain behaviors that they were taught as caterpillars. Far out!

The cool thing is that many of these caterpillars are almost as impressive, if not more so than their moth or butterfly counterparts. The regular green caterpillar looks plain, compared to these beauties. Their bright markings and structures often serve as protection, advertising their poisonous nature or giving predators false targets to attack. The hairy caterpillars can sometimes cause an allergic reaction, and that is also one of their survival techniques.

Zoology > The Butterfly Kingdom

Hi, I'm Ming-Luen Jeng. I study insects like beetles and butterflies. I work at the National Museum of Natural Science in Taiwan . I participated in the planning of an exhibition to help people learn about butterflies.

Find out why I'm fascinated by these fluttering insects!

Take a closer look at some of Taiwan's amazing butterflies in this PDF!

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Moths, Butterflies, and Pollination

Insect pollinators play an essential role in the maintenance of wild plant diversity and agricultural productivity. Indeed, global studies have shown that the vast majority of plants require animal pollination to produce fruit and seed. In temperate regions, major pollinator groups include bees (Hymenoptera), syrphid (Diptera), as well as butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera). In contrast to bees, Lepidoptera are not considered efficient pollinators of most cultivated plants. Nevertheless, they are vital pollinators of many flowering plants, especially in the wild as well as managed lands such as parks and yards.

Fig. 1. Hawkmoth. Photo: J. Patrick (CC)

The pollinating taxa of Lepidoptera are mainly in the moth families Sphingidae (hawk moths Fig. 1), Noctuidae (owlet moths) and Geometridae (geometer moths), and the butterfly families Hesperiidae (skippers) and Papilionoidea (common butterflies). The adult stage of these lepidopterans obtains their nutrients and water from nectar of various flowers and while exploiting flowers for food, pollination may occur. Moths and butterflies have different pollinator niches, as butterflies are very active during the day (diurnal) and visit open flowers during the morning hours and under full sunlight. Contrarily, moths are more active during the evening and night hours (nocturnal). As a response to this, some flowers may seek to increase pollination by changing color during a 24-hour period to attract butterflies during the day and moths at night. For example, Quisqualis indica flowers change color from white to pink to red which may be associated with a shift from moth to butterfly pollination (Fig. 2). A study conducted in China verified that different pollinators are attracted to each floral color stage primarily moths at night and bees and butterflies during the day. Further, fruit set was higher for white than pink or red flowers indicating that moths contributed more to its reproductive success. While adult butterflies and moths are important pollinators, their larvae – often called caterpillars – may be economically important pests in agricultural, forest and urban environments. In some instances, their status as agricultural villains as caterpillars override their positive image as ecosystem service providers as adults.

Fig. 2. Quisqualis indica. Photo: D. Valke (CC)

Nectar and pollen consumption

Adult butterflies diet choice varies between species, populations, generations, sexes, age groups and individuals. Most adult lepidopterans feed on fluid resources such as nectar, decomposing animals, dung and fruit sap (Fig. 3) and others may not feed at all as adults. Butterflies consume nectar by active suction using their elongated mouthparts (called proboscis), and usually avoid highly concentrated nectar because of its high viscosity.

Fig. 3. Butterfly feeding on fruit – Photo: mrkittums (CC)

Nutritionally, nectar serves as a source of water, carbohydrates and amino acids the latter allowing butterflies to meet their nitrogen requirements. Interestingly, butterfly-pollinated flowers tend to have higher concentrations of amino acids than do flowers pollinated by bees and other animals. This is remarkable since insects like butterflies, whose larval stages feed on plant foliage and adult stages on nectar have long been assumed to obtain most or all of their nitrogen-rich compounds needed for reproduction from larval feeding. Going against this assumption, it has been shown that both nectar consumption and larval food intake can affect the life span and fecundity (number of offsprings produced) of some butterfly species. For example, a recent study found that nitrogen-rich compounds (amino acids) present in nectar significantly increased the fecundity of the nectar-feeding butterfly Araschnia levana. However, their fecundity was enhanced only if the female fed on a poor-quality plant as a larva. This suggests that nectar can act as a necessary dietary complement if a butterfly fed on a nitrogen-poor plant as a larva.

Another nitrogen-rich floral reward is pollen. Nectar-consuming butterflies come into contact with pollen while visiting flowers, but the vast majority of butterflies is unable to feed on pollen. However, butterflies of the neotropical genera Heliconius and Laparus (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae Fig. 4) evolved a feeding technique in which amino acids are extracted from pollen grains, rather than fortuitously during their pursuit of nectar. These butterflies collect and accumulate large pollen loads, and the production of saliva helps keep it attached to their proboscis while they gently chew the pollen to consume its amino acids. Pollen feeding is thought to increase Heliconius longevity and egg production.

Fig. 4. Heliconius numata with pollen load -Photo:

Butterflies efficiency as pollinators

It has been suggested that for most plant species, butterflies visit flowers less frequently than bees and deposit less pollen per visit. With a few notable exceptions such as yucca moths, adult lepidopterans show little floral specialization, preferring flowers with large landing surfaces, deep, narrow corollas that can accommodate their elongated mouths, and plants displaying many flowers in close proximity. Butterflies prefer visiting large flower heads, and when searching flowers for nectar, pollen grains attach to various body extremities (e.g., mouth parts, head) depending on the plant’s floral architecture. However, because butterflies’ legs and mouth parts are elongated, most of their body does not enter in direct contact with the plant’s pollen. Consequently, butterflies pick up less pollen on their bodies than bees, and most of it is usually deposited on or around their heads and mouth parts. This pollen is then transferred to the surface of the stigma when the butterfly reaches for nectar in a new flower. Because little pollen is usually carried by butterflies, and the fact that – unlike bees – they don’t have specialized structures for carrying pollen, butterflies are less successful than bees at moving pollen between flowers. Although not as efficient as bees, butterflies can be very effective pollinators, and among the insect fauna they qualify as essential pollinators. In many instances, a decline in the butterfly fauna is attributed to a decrease in nectar-rich and economically or culturally important wild plant species. Further, butterflies can be important in agricultural systems. For example, a survey of pollinators associated with macadamia in NE Brazil found that macadamia yields mainly benefited from pollination by butterflies rather than bees. Consequently, butterflies were responsible for > 50% of floral visits to macadamia flower. Moreover, their pollination of some vegetable crops contributes strongly to seed production.

Many flowers, including some orchids, are completely dependent on butterflies for pollination, and a member of the pea family, the peacock flower (Caesalpinia pulcherrima Fig. 5) is largely dependent on butterflies for pollination, with pollen being mainly carried on their wings. In addition to butterflies, some moths have a special relationship with specific plants. For example, the yucca plant (Hesperoyucca whipplei) is pollinated by the yucca moth (Tegeticula maculata) with which it has a symbiotic relationship. The gravid female moth gathers pollen grains from flowers at night and forms them into a ball. She carries the ball in her mouth to another yucca flower. She then inserts her ovipositor into the ovary wall of the flower and deposits a single egg and then pushes the pollen into the stigma, thus pollinating the flower. The larva hatches in late spring or summer, and feeds on some of the developing seeds. Emergence of the adult moth occurs while yucca plants are again in bloom, allowing the cycle to continue.

Fig. 5. Orange sulphur butterfly feeding on peacock flower Caesalpinia pulcherrima – Photo: Anne Reeves (CC)

Flower structure and mouthparts

The body architecture (e.g., body size, mouth shape) and behavior of pollinators with respect to the flower’s dimension and morphology, are some of the factors that define which floral visitors are effective pollinators. Many studies of plant-pollinator interactions provide evidence that the morphological match between the flower shape and size, and the length of pollinators’ mouthparts influences pollination success. In relation to this, it has been observed that flowers and their pollinators engage in a series of reciprocal adaptive or coevolutionary cycles. In these cycles, plants that have the “best” floral shape for a specific pollinator are capable of producing more seeds, while pollinators that are capable of obtaining more nectar from an individual flower visit will also obtain greater energy required to produce more offsprings. When the pollinator and plant requirements align like this, plants tend to evolve floral shapes that match their “best” pollinator, while pollinators tend to evolve specific floral preferences and morphologies that match the plant. Over many generations, this leads to the establishment of floral preferences in pollinators, and a convergence in floral shapes of flowers visited by a given type of pollinator. It is for this reason that butterflies and hummingbirds are seen more often visiting long-necked or trumpet shaped flowers, than other pollinators and these flower types are better pollinated by butterflies or hummingbirds than other pollinator groups. The result of these coevolutionary processes can be seen in many cases of pollination, but some of the most impressive examples are those having led to the evolution of extremely long proboscides (up to 14 inches) in some lepidopterans (Fig. 6), which match the length of the floral tube of their preferred flowers.

Fig. 6. Malagasy hawk moth visiting the ghost orchid. Photo: Minden Pictures / SuperStock.

How do moths and butterflies locate flowers

In order to locate floral resources, lepidopterans use a series of cues, such as specific colors, shapes, sizes and odors. As stated previously, moths are major nocturnal pollinators of a diverse range of plant species but have been historically considered to contribute little to overall pollination. However, recent research has rejected this notion, demonstrating that nocturnal moths contribute strongly to pollination, even to the point of compensating for poor pollination by diurnal pollinators. Moths are attracted to pale or white flowers with an open cup or tubular shape, heavy with fragrance and dilute nectar, and typically open in late afternoon to night. In turn, these plants are also specialized in pollination by moths, with these attractive traits having evolved through millions of years of coevolution. An example of these plants includes the creeping buttercup or honeysuckle, which tend to emit a strong fragrance at night.

Unlike moths, butterflies are diurnal and typically visit flowers under heavy sunlight, preferring those displayed in clusters and offering large nectar rewards (Fig. 7). Flowers specialized in pollination by butterflies are often brightly colored (red, yellow, orange), lack an apparent scent and secrete relatively dilute nectar in narrow elongated floral tubes. Examples of butterfly flowers are goldenrods and Asters, which provide a large landing surface as well as abundant and accessible nectar. Some of these preferences in butterflies are due to the butterfly’s good perception of color, which in most cases covers a wider range of the spectrum than human vision. Indeed, various studies have demonstrated that some pollinators rely strongly on color to make their foraging decisions, and this is certainly the case of butterflies. Similar to hummingbirds, butterflies have a good perception of the color red and as such, are attracted to red flowers. Further, many lepidopterans are able to distinguish various shades of yellow. To this point, an experiment consisting of potted daylily and nightlily showed that swallowtail butterflies preferentially visited reddish or orange-colored flowers and hawkmoths favored yellowish flowers. Similar to many insects, butterflies are capable of seeing ultraviolet light, which allows them to follow special nectar markings present on flowers that are only visible under that type of light. Correspondingly to how butterflies and moths are able to sense odors of their preferred flowers, studies have shown that butterflies may also sense the nectar amino acid content of different flowers, preferring those with high versus low amino acid content. For instance, studies found that, when given the choice, the cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) preferred feeding on artificial flowers containing sugar-amino acid mixes, versus sugar-only nectar of Lantana camara (a perennial shrub).

Fig. 7. Fritillary butterfly feeding on goldenrod – Photo: hedera.baltica (CC)

Butterfly flower avoidance

As with all organisms, butterflies have their own natural enemies at the immature and adult stages. Egg, larva and pupa of butterflies and moths are vulnerable to parasitism and predation. Adult stages may suffer mortality from mammalian and arthropod predation. For instance, when visiting flowers, butterflies may be vulnerable to arthropod predators such as mantises and spiders (Fig. 8). Studies have shown that butterflies are capable of avoiding flowers with predator cues. For example, similar to bees, they have been shown to avoid flowers with artificial spiders and models of spider forelimbs. In another study conducted in a butterfly pavilion, visiting butterflies stayed away from flowers containing dead mantises.

Fig. 8. Crab spider feeding on a skipper butterfly – Photo: MattysFlicks (CC)

Howbeit, it is debatable whether butterflies were responding to the mantis’s cues or were simply avoiding flowers containing foreign objects. Still, some studies seem to agree that at least some avoidance is due to visual recognition. Interestingly, the degree of avoidance recorded in these studies indicated that it was weaker in butterflies reared in the pavilion than in wild butterflies. This tends to indicate that a part of this avoidance is learned and a reflection of previous predation experiences.

Butterfly conservation

Drivers of pollinator and butterfly losses. Many insect pollinators that provide vital services are declining and multiple factors have been implicated. In Europe, noticeable drops have been observed for butterflies, wild bees and hoverflies. Similarly, lepidopterists in the US are reporting that butterflies are in decline. Butterflies face a wide range of threats including habitat loss, changes in land management and land use, climate change, disease, pesticides and invasive organisms. Another driver of pollinator decline is agriculture intensification, which results in loss and fragmentation of pollinator-diverse habitats such as semi-natural grasslands, and is also associated with increased chemical use. Other factors associated with human activity have also been identified as contributors to pollinator loss. For instance, pollutants and urbanization can negatively affect the richness and abundance of native plant species used by pollinators, and thus lead to poor pollinator communities. Anthropogenic changes in the landscape can sometimes affect pollinators in surprising and indirect ways. For instance, changes in land use can lead to increased encroachment of plants such as some shrubs that are not congenial to butterflies and an associated decrease in butterfly richness and abundance by negatively impacting herbaceous plant cover and diversity. Further, enhanced shrub covering may indirectly affect pollinators by increasing their predation by perching birds.

Should bee and butterfly conservation plans be the same? The ecology of lepidopterans differs from that of bees. For example, bees require nectar and pollen throughout their life, while butterflies only utilize nectar as adults. Further, most caterpillars are leaf-feeders and do not require any parental care, while bees must collect pollen and nectar to support their brood and themselves. Moreover, while most bee species develop in relatively protected habitats (i.e., their nests), caterpillars are exposed while feeding on their host plants, vulnerable to predation, parasitism and climatic factors. These differences may require some alterations in conservation efforts aimed at protecting butterflies and bees. For example, butterfly-friendly environments must contain plants that support the larval and adult stages, and land management practices need to be appropriate for preserving plant species needed in caterpillar diets. Failing to do so would lead to low caterpillar survival or death, and the eventual loss of the butterfly population.

Conserving butterflies.To help save butterflies and other pollinators, it is recommended that a diversity of colorful, wildlife-friendly plants full of nectar be planted in gardens, yards, urban and recreational areas and on/nearby arable lands. Floral diversity is a pre-requisite for enhancing butterfly conservation, especially in urban environments. To better ensure butterflies have access to resources throughout the year, flowers with a range of bloom time (early spring through fall) and morphological features should be planted. Further, a habitat hospitable to butterflies and moths provides food for caterpillars, nectar-bearing flowers for adults, and consists of at least some native species. Indeed, although a few can feed on exotic plants, most caterpillar species are specialized on native plant species. Likewise, although some caterpillars are polyphagous, most are restricted to a few or just one plant species. Protecting land for butterflies does not equate to transforming all land into a fully protected area. Indeed, land in public settings, such as roadway medians, roadsides, landscaped parks, and even railway embankments have the potential to support large populations of pollinators. Confirming this, studies found that bee and butterfly species richness and abundance were higher in railway embankments than in grasslands. Further, they demonstrated that in that context non-vegetated ground negatively affected butterfly populations, since their diversity positively depended on species richness of native plants. For this same reason, open forests also tend to harbor higher pollinator diversity than forests with a very closed canopy. Further, actions can be taken to improve the pollinator friendliness of different public lands. For instance, roadside management plans can be designed to benefit pollinators (Fig. 9). Roadsides with abundant and diverse native wildflowers managed with judicious mowing and herbicide use can become diverse pollinator habitats. Furthermore, research indicates that roadsides with high-quality habitat reduce pollinator mortality as insects remain in the roadside as opposed to leaving in search of flowers.

Fig. 9. Roadside pollinator habitat – Photo: Minnesota Department of Transportation

Land management tactics for increasing plant diversity (intercropping, cover cropping, insectary plants, flower borders, etc.) are often used to enhance populations of natural enemies in cropping systems. When this practice is used to augment natural enemy efficacy, it is often called conservation biological control. However, this same tactic can be used to concomitantly conserve biocontrol agents and pollinators, while enhancing other services to cropping system (i.e., pest suppression). In a similar context, the idea of companion planting can also represent a way to combine production with pollinator protection in agricultural landscapes. Companion planting is a traditional husbandry practice whereby a second plant species is planted alongside a crop with the goal of improving yield. Using a flowering species as a companion plant can make arable lands more congenial to pollinators resulting in improved pollination services and crop yield. A recent study examined the use of borage, Borago officinalis (Fig. 10), as a companion plant in strawberry. Borage plants were found to significantly increase yield and quality of strawberries, suggesting an increase in insect pollination per plant.

Fig. 10. Butterfly visiting a borage plant. Photo:

Immature stages of some moths and butterflies are viewed negatively because of their harm to agriculture. However, adult lepidopterans are mostly cherished for their aesthetic beauty, and less recognized for their contribution to pollination. Howbeit, lepidopterans are vital contributors to the pollination of wild plants and domesticated crops and though their efficiency at crop pollination does not reach the level of bees in most systems, there are instances in which their services are of greater value (as for pollination of macadamia nuts), or compensating diurnal pollination (as shown for nocturnal moths). Moreover, while bees are more likely to pollinate fruit crops, butterflies are primary pollinators for many vegetables and herbs, especially those in the carrot, sunflower, legume, mint and Brassica family. Although pollination of these vegetable crops is not needed for producing the edible portion of the crop, it is required for seed production, in which future plantings require. This suggests that efforts being directed to protect bee pollinators should similarly integrate moth and butterfly conservation. To this point, because the ecology of bees and lepidopterans differ especially with respect to resource requirements during their immature stage, plans directed at conserving bee and lepidopteran pollinators should take these differences into consideration. Financial support for the publication of this article is via USDA NIFA EIPM grant award numbers 2017-70006-27171.

Watch the video: Butterfly: A Life. National Geographic (February 2023).