Gardening Columnist Maggie L. Moor-Orth offers fun facts about the butterflies and moths buzzing around local gardens.


In May, I wrote an article on how to attract butterflies to your backyard and hopefully by now you have many visiting your flower blooms. Therefore, I thought some of you may want to know more about butterflies and moths that visit your 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 that 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 (they do not bite, but 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 (moth’s 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 eggshell 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 (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 for 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.