Butterfly and Bee Garden

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Is a Butterfly an Insect or a Bug

Many people have asked this question, is a butterfly an insect? We tend to focus on the beautiful wings, but they have a head, thorax, abdomen, six legs, compound eyes, an exoskeleton, and a pair of antennae. These are all physical insect traits, and in this article, we will take a closer look at butterflies to determine if they are bugs or insects.

What Features Determine That Something Is An Insect?

is a butterfly an insectThere are more insects alive and thriving in our world than any other kind of creature. It’s estimated that eight out of every ten living animals are either insects or other types of arthropods. At this time, biologists have identified more than a million different insect species, and more are discovered all the time.

To identify as an insect, there are five clear features that a living organism must possess:

  1. No Backbone: Every insect is spineless, they are invertebrates, and in the case of flying insects, they are the only invertebrates that are capable of flight.
  2. Chitin Exoskeleton: Because the body of the creature has no backbone, it must rely on a chitin exoskeleton for protection and support.
  3. Antennae: Insects have a pair of antennae on their head.
  4. Legs: Insects have three pairs of jointed legs (six in total) connected to their thorax.
  5. Body Division: Insects have three distinct and connected body parts: the head, thorax, and abdomen.

When we are considering the question, is a Butterfly an Insect? It’s clear to see that a butterfly has all of these five traits. But, there is an apparent exception when it comes to the number of legs. There are some famous butterfly species that appear to have only four legs: Admirals, Emperors, Fritillaries, and Monarchs. However, on closer inspection, these butterfly species have a third set of legs tucked tightly up near their thorax.

What Is A Butterfly?

butterflies feed on plantsA butterfly is part of the Papilionoidea super-family of insects that belong to other families, such as moths, skippers, and others that are part of the Lepidoptera insect order. Butterflies are distributed virtually everywhere in the world, and there are many species.  Despite their differences, butterflies have common characteristics, such as dust like scales that shed during handling, activity during the day, club-tipped antennae, and a vertical wing position during rest.

Butterflies follow the lepidopteran life cycle with four clear stages: egg, larval, pupa (caterpillar), and adult. During the larval and adult stages, the butterflies feed on plants and then nectar to sustain themselves. The plants that are used for feeding will vary depending on the specific species.

What Is A Butterfly Classified As?

The collective classification is Nymphalidae; the shortened and partially hidden forelegs are virtually vestigial and located by the head or thorax on most butterfly species. This pair of legs is not used for walking, and scientists believe they are used primarily for communication. These smaller legs tend to be covered in a raised fuzz which supports this theory.

The adaptation of butterflies is impressive; the larval stage is when the caterpillar becomes an eating machine to fuel growth and prepare for the pupal stage. The caterpillar becomes plump, and it can shed its skin 4-5 times as it grows. The stored nutrients are essential during the chrysalis stage, and when the beautiful butterfly emerges, it’s always a magical experience.

The adult butterfly is focused on mating and laying eggs, and their attractive wings attract a suitable mate. The full formed proboscis is designed for drinking the sugary nectar from flowering plants to fuel flying and breeding. A female butterfly will visit many suitable plants to find the ideal location to lay a large number of eggs to improve survivability for the next generation.

At What Stage Of A Butterfly Cycle Do They Become An Insect?

The four stage life cycle of a butterfly is iconic. Let’s take a closer look at what happened during this process:

Stage 1: The Egg

The life of the butterfly starts as a tiny egg laid on or under a leaf in large numbers. Butterfly eggs are laid in clusters that usually gestate for 1-2 weeks before the larvae (caterpillars) hatch.

Stage 2: Caterpillar

butterfly speciesMany insects pass through a larval stage, and butterfly larvae are known as caterpillars. At this stage, the caterpillar is a voracious eater; it consumes the leaf, grass, and other tasty plant material to fuel its amazing growth. A caterpillar can grow up to 1,000 times larger than the initial egg size, and it may shed its skin 4-5 times to accommodate its new size. These calories will be vital when the caterpillar enters the next stage.

Stage 3: The Chrysalis

The pupal stage is referred to as the chrysalis for butterflies. A solid casement is constructed from the exoskeleton as the caterpillar’s body breaks down at a cellular level. The surface of the chrysalis may seem calm, but inside, the life form is rebuilding itself into a butterfly. Depending on the species, this process can take several weeks as the various parts of the new butterfly start to take shape and grow.

Stage 4: Adult Butterfly

The adult butterfly struggles to free itself from the chrysalis; it then rests, the wings are dried, and it prepares for its first flight to find food. Soon after, the butterfly will search for a mate, and time is of the essence. Most butterfly species expire in less than a month, and they need to fertilize and lay eggs to secure the future of the next generation.

Is a Butterfly an Insect or a Bug-In Conclusion

Hopefully, we’ve answered the question, is a Butterfly an Insect? To your satisfaction. To summarize, a butterfly can easily be classified as an insect. But, in some respects, it’s not truly a member of a bug family. An entomologist is unlikely to like the inaccuracy of the term “bug” as it would be applied to a butterfly or other insect. Using bug as a collective term for small creatures that flew or crawled on the ground was common up until the advent of the natural sciences. This term is still in common use, but it’s not accurate from a scientific perspective, and this can be a problem when more precise classification and explanations are required.