Maggie L. Moor-Orth, Delaware Cooperative Extension, Delaware State University, writes about butterflies and moths that visit local landscapes.


    Last year I wrote an article listing a variety of plants that would help attract butterflies, so this year I thought I’d write about the butterflies and moths that visit local landscapes. The following are some butterfly and/or moth facts:

    • They both belong to the Lepidoptera (scale winged) family.

    • There are 20,000 different butterfly families and more than 240,000 moth families. Most live in the tropical rainforest.

    • Both have a complete or four-stage metamorphosis (when they move through a life stage change they look different than when they become an adult).

    • Adults have sucking mouth parts.

    • They have compound eyes, hundreds of lenses that each focuses on a small area of the surrounding environment.

    • The proboscis is a long, straw-like tube that unrolls from the head when the butterfly’s feet land on the flower surface to eat or sits on water for drinking.

    • The antennae extend out of the front side of the head between the eyes. The insect uses these as a nose, for mating and for balancing while flying.

    • In the immature or larval stage, they have chewing mouth parts and although they do not bite, hairs on some may sting.

    • They have six segmented legs.

    • They have four wings which are composed of two membrane layers supported by tubular veins and covered by thousands of colorful scales. Moths are thicker, making them look furry.

    • Colors are for attracting mates — males are usually brighter — warning predators or providing camouflage. Birds, bats, spiders, dragonflies, praying mantis and mice love to eat butterflies and moths.

    • The bright yellow and black, orange or red colors tell other predators that they may bite, sting or taste bad. Their colors look like colors on less edible species.

    • Butterflies usually lay one egg at a time on the specific host plant leaves and/or stems (coating them with an adhesive that fastens them to the leaf) – they hatch about five days later.

    • Eggs from different butterflies have their own unique shape and color.

    • At hatching, caterpillars eat their egg shell and then eat lots and lots of leaves from the host plant.

    • After weeks of eating and growing, the caterpillar leaves the host plant and searches for a hiding place such as a bush, tall grass, piles of leaves or sticks, under siding on homes.

    • Inside the chrysalis, the larva changes into a butterfly, which takes only a few weeks.

    • After the adult butterfly emerges, it looks for another butterfly to mate with.

    • After mating, the female lays her eggs.

    • Adult butterflies only live about two weeks.

    • When cold weather arrives some butterflies migrate to warmer areas (the Monarch migrates to only 12 mountaintop sites in Mexico).

    I hope you find these facts as interesting as I did. And the next time you have butterflies and moths visiting your flowers, you may want to pay closer attention to these very interesting insects.