Lepipodteron: Butterflies and Moths


(If you are interested in Ecology read this)


(Information From Visit To Flutter:  Butterflies and Moths In Art and Science                      exhibit @ the Bell Museum)

               This paper is about Lepidopteron—better known as butterflies and moths.  My paper will go into some of the basic characteristics about these insects, their life cycles, mating habits and some conclusions in respect to our relationship with them.  It is interesting to note that there are 170,000 known species of moths and butterflies, while with primates there are only 233.  Their name comes from Greek with Lepis meaning scale (their wings have scales) and ptoron meaning flight.

Lepidopteron have six legs with some degree of difference in positioning.  Some have a set of legs which are much shorter and close to the head making it look like they only have four.  The two basic groupings o Lepidopteron are Butterflies and Moths.  Basic differences are:  Moths are nocturnal, much duller in color, their wings overlap and, whereas most butterflies rest with their wings closed above their bodies, moths rest with their wings horizontally spread.  There is also a variety of butterflies called Skippers—given that name because their flight has jumpier movements.  They too tend to be duller in color.

Lepidopteron drink their food through a tube like proboscis, though some have mandibles to crunch pollen.  Males have a need for salt and they will take it in through mud and dung left by birds.  In adult life, many eat very little and mostly sugary liquids.

The color patterns which we see are actually composed of the scales on their wings.  These scales are interlocked by protein molecules and are hinged or hooked to their wings, so that they keep beat with their wings.  They also have compound eyes, which remind one of pixels on a computer.  They can see all the colors we do, but they also see ultra-violet light, which I will go into more later.

There are four life cycle stages of the Lepidopteron.  The adult attaches eggs with glue like substance (usually to the underside of leaves).  She does not care for the eggs, but places them near a food source.  They can lay hundreds of eggs and will do so either singularly or in groups with a lot being dependent on how abundant a food source there is in the area.  When the caterpillar emerges from the egg it has a voracious appetite and feeds and feeds on leafy substances till it grows enough to where it needs to shed its skin.  Caterpillars do this 4-5 times and each shedding is called an Instar.  The last time has the most significant hormonal changes with the eating pattern slowing down.  The caterpillar then releases a silky substance which it hangs from and the metamorphosis begins.  During this time, that the pupae is forming, the caterpillar goes through the radical change to become an adult and finally pushes out of the pupae producing a new adult lepidopteron.

Lepidopteron actually have an anti-freeze like hormone which slows development in the cold– Diapause.  Most significantly this occurs in the pupae stage.  Monarchs cannot take northern winters and actually migrate to places like Mexico and California.  When it gets too hot for them they come back up north.   On cool summer days, Lepidopteron often lay in the sun to warm up their muscles before flight.  The mating process of Lepidopteron is fascinating.  Some will mate immediately coming out of the pupae; others like the Monarch will wait three or four days.  Others will be injected by the male right into the pupae and come out ready to lay eggs.  Still others wait for months.  Some during the mating process will stay together overnight or a full sixteen hours with the male eating while they are joined together.  Their entire body has sense and smell detectors, so they can easily detect pheromones, as well as on the female antennae.  The detection of ultraviolet rays is said to also help to identify the males of the species.

Ultraviolet light also is a protective mechanism to detect reflections and movement.  The many sense and smell detectors on their bodies are protection; bright color patterns, as with other insects, can be a warning against toxicity. Monarchs eat milk weed to make themselves toxic to predators. Mimicry blends them in with one’s environment camouflaging them. Owl butterflies actually show what looks like the face of an owl, while mating and keeps predators owls feed on away, but he worst enemies to Lepidopteron—aside from man—are insects that attack them in the egg and pupae stages.

Conclusion:  Because caterpillars ravage leaves (often on crops), chemicals are used against them, but recently, through DNA, it has been proven butterflies emerged earlier in history and plants depended on pollination through them.  Therefore, we are controlling one aspect, while harming pollination.  Also, if we consider the males’ dependence on mud and droppings from birds for salt, we again can be exposing them to chemicals through polluted lands and what birds eat.  Considering the mystery of the disappearing bees, what about the Lepidopteron?  Are we creating, as with other things, chemical resistant mites, etc., which will destroy them and create further hindrances to the pollination process?


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