Amy and Jennifer at the Skywalk in Monteverde. See other pictures from Costa Rica.
World Wide Classification
Butterflies are classified in the phylum Arthropoda, class Insecta, and order Lepidoptera, which is the second largest order in Insecta. Within Lepidoptera, there are two members, butterflies and moths. There are about 12 families of butterflies. The super family Papilionoidea /Swallowtails contains the true butterflies. The super family Hesperoidae/Skipper Family is the home of the skippers. There exists about 20,000 butterfly species planet wide.
Costa Rican Butterflies
Costa Rica is uncommonly gifted by its diversity of butterflies. Out of 20,000 about 1,000 or 5% can be found in Costa Rica. Some common Costa Rican species/genera are;
Species Genera Genera
Phoebis Papilio cresphontes
Caligo Battus polydamus
Hamadryas Dione juno
Heliconius Anteos chlorinde
Parides Agraulis vanillae
Moths and Butterflies
There are several characteristics that distinguish butterflies from moths. Butterflies are diurnal, being active during the day, while most moths are nocturnal. Butterflies are brightly colored, and moths are usually white, brown, or gray, in a word, plain.
The most reliable feature that is different is the antennae. The butterfliesÕ antennae are more club like, and have knobs or hooks at the tips. The moth's antennae are feathery and brush like.
When a butterfly lands, the wings are held upright, vertical in relationship to its body. A moth lands with its wings open, held horizontally against the substrate and its body.
Butterflies form a pupae hanging from usually a branch. A moth forms a cocoon, usually on the ground.
Butterflies always have a proboscis, a long straw like appendage that is coiled up like a spring when not in use. Often, moths do not eat at all as adults.
Butterflies can move their wings independently. Moths' front and back wings are connected by spines across their body.
There are of course, exceptions to all of the above rules. Butterflies in the Hamadryas genus (Nymphaliinae) always land with their wings laid flat. Some species, like the skippers, may hold their wings either flat, or folded, or even in-between.
There are many brilliantly colored day-flying species of moths and there is even one species of butterfly, Pseudopontia paradoxa from Africa, whose thread-like antennae lack the distinctive clubbed ends that identify butterflies.
Butterflies are only approximately 50 million years old. Moths are much older at 150 million years old.
Most adult moths and butterflies feed on nectar sucked from flowers.
Most butterflies and moths have a proboscis.
Most butterflies and moths have wings covered in scales that come off as dust when touched.
As adults, the butterfliesÕ only job is to reproduce. If they were not so goal oriented, then butterflies would not be around today. A typical female butterfly will lay about 100 eggs in her lifetime, and only 2 of them will survive to be healthy adults. Two babies replacing the parents it took to create them..
Some species lay their eggs in groups. Other species lay their eggs individually on widely dispersed plants. Both approaches are legitimate, but only just sufficiently to ensure the continued existence of the species. The reasons for this high mortality rate are numerous. The most important causes include climate phenomenon (wind, drought and rain); illness caused by virus and bacteria; and predators.
Reproduction in butterflies is haphazard at best. The males job is to find the females and inseminate them. They do this by lining up their abdomens with the female. Inside the abdomen is where all of the sex organs in both partners are located. The male has a set of claspers that clamp down on the female. The butterflies are attached, but facing opposite directions. The male inserts the penis at the same place in which the eggs come out. When the male ejaculates, the sperm enter a small holding tank or pouch inside the female. After mating, the female has about 100 eggs inside her and a pouch full of the maleÕs sperm. When she places an egg on the host plant, it was fertilized less than a second ago, for as the egg is leaving the ovipositor, it will pass the pouch full of sperm, and instantly, one sperm will fertilize the egg and determine its sex. There the parenting ends, and it is anyoneÕs guess whether the egg will survive.
As insects, butterflies enjoy six legs and three body segments: head, thorax and abdomen. On the head, the three most easily distinguishable features are the antennae, the eyes and the proboscis.
The antennae are used for balance in flight, and can even help compensate for an injured wing. The antennae also give the butterfly a sense of smell. Female butterflies release pheromones into its surroundings. The male butterflies of many species can detect these pheromones from incredible distances, over a mile. Then, itÕs the males job to find her.
Butterflies eyes are large sphere-shaped structures. Each eye is made up of thousands of tiny hexagon shaped sensors. Each sensor, called an omatidea. Each omatidea is positioned at a slightly different angle than its neighbor. Therefore as a unit, they can see in every direction concurrently.
Obviously, there is some debate about what butterflies can actually see, as they have such intricate and complicated eyes, and such small brains. Some scientists maintain that butterflies have very limited vision being able to see only light, primary colors, and movement. Others insist that butterflies can differentiate between secondary colors, and have some depth perception.
Butterflies feed exclusively on liquids, through their proboscis. This diet is composed of flower nectar mostly, but also cow dung, water and tree sap.
The thorax connects the six legs and four wings to the body. The butterflies' ears, thin membranes, which are similar to a humanÕs eardrum, are also here. The ears are too small to be seen, but there are tiny hairs located right underneath them. When sound waves hit this membrane, it pulsates and touches these hairs. The hairs then send a message to the brain informing the butterfly of its direction and distance from the object.
All of the circulatory, digestive, reproductive and respiratory systems are in the abdomen.
The butterfly's circulatory system is exceedingly simple; Imagine a pump connected to a long, thin tube that runs from the abdomen to the head. The heart pumps the blood up this tube and it is discharged into the tissues. Because of a pressure gradient, the blood seeps back through the tissue to the abdomen. There it is sucked back into the pump, and the cycle begins again.
There is no need for the circulatory system to be any more complicated than that, because in butterflies, there is no exchange of gases in the blood. Instead spiracles found along both sides of their bodies act as valves.. The spiracles that allow oxygen to enter the body are found primarily along the abdomen. Spiracles found in other parts of the body exhale carbon dioxide. After the oxygen enters the body, it is transported around in pipes resembling veins in humans.
Last, the digestive system; since butterflies only ingest liquid, they only ever have to excrete liquid.. Well hidden at the end of the abdomen is the anus.
All of Lepidoptera, above all the butterflies, are renowned for the stunning colors and patterns of their wings. The colors of red, yellow, black, and white are found in the scales, and the blues, greens and the metallics are caused by refraction of the light and are most commonly found in the tropical species. Some species of butterflies are defensively colored to blend in with their surroundings. Many brightly patterned and painted species are repugnant to birds, by which the predators learns that butterflies who look like that are distasteful. This means that other species who may taste good are actually protected if they resemble someone else. This is known as mimicry. Mimicry either protects the mimic from its attackers, which is the case in which the creature being modeled is poisonous or hazardous, or to mislead its prey. The best example of this is an ant eating spider who looks like an ant. However, mimicry is most pervasive in Lepidoptera.
6. The Neotropical Companion by John Kricher
Princeton University Press, 1997. P.158-159.
7. Butterfly Conservation by T.R. New
Oxford University Press, 1997. P. 63-70.
8. DeVries, P. J. 1997. The Butterflies of Costa Rica and their Natural History. Vol. II. Riodinidae. Princeton University Press
9. Haber, W. A. 1993. Seasonal migration of monarchs and other butterflies in Costa Rica. In: Biology and Conservation of the Monarch Butterfly. Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Los Angeles. pp. 201-207.
10. Haber, W. A. and R. D. Stevenson. Diversity, migration, and conservation of butterflies in northern Costa Rica. In: Biodiversity Conservation in Costa Rica, Learning the Lesson in the Seasonal Dry Forest. G. Frankie, A. Mata, and S. B. Vinson, editors. University of California Press. In press.
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