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God's Amazing Living Gems

From their brightly colored wings to their effortless graceful flight, butterflies are some of God's special creations! How much do you know about these amazing insects? Here are some fun facts that may inspire you to think about butterflies in a whole new way.

Butterfly wings are transparent.

Before you run to get an eye exam, let us explain. Butterfly wings are covered in a multitude of miniature scales — thousands of them. And those colors you see when a butterfly flits across your yard are the reflections of various colors through the scales. The wings themselves are made up of a protein called chitin, which is the same protein that forms an insect’s exoskeleton. And much like an exoskeleton, chitin is transparent.

There are almost 20,000 butterfly species.

If you’ve ever wanted to memorize all the various species of butterflies, it may take longer than you expected! An easier starting point would be those species regularly occurring in the lower 48 states. But, that's still a pretty big number. About 575 in fact! Why not keep track of all different kinds that frequent your neighborhood? 

Butterflies taste with their feet.

This fact may surprise you. A butterfly’s daily activities consist of eating and mating, both of which require landing – even if it is only briefly. When food is the priority, those taste receptors help the butterfly locate the right plants and the key nutrients it needs for survival.

Butterflies only live for a few weeks.

The average lifespan of an adult butterfly is roughly three to four weeks, however, the entire life cycle can last anywhere between two and eight months. As with anything, there are exceptions to the rule. At least one species of butterfly lives for approximately 24 hours, while some migratory butterflies, like the North American Monarch, can survive for nearly eight months.

The most common butterfly in the US is the Cabbage White.

Named for its mostly white marking, with hints of yellow and green like the vegetable, the Cabbage White may not be the most colorful butterfly in your garden or yard, but it is the most common. The male Cabbage White has one prominent black spot on each wing, while the female has two.

Some butterfly species migrate. 

Butterflies are cold-blooded and require — in ideal settings — a body temperature of approximately 85 degrees to activate their flight muscles. In most cases, cold weather will end the already short life of a butterfly by rendering them immobile. But others take the dropping temperature as a signal to move. If the weather begins changing, some species simply migrate in search of sunshine. Some, like the North American Monarch, travel an average of 2,500 miles!

One of the largest butterflies is the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly.

With a wingspan of between four and seven inches, this species has a name that fits its dimensions. If you have ever seen one on a hike or around your yard, you may have been spellbound. Their swallowtail description is borrowed from birds of the same name, thanks to the long tails on this butterfly’s hindwings.

Butterflies have a liquid diet.

Butterflies are always on the lookout for food. The interesting thing is they only eat liquids. They simply don't have the ability to chew. Instead, they drink nectar and other liquids through a proboscis, which is a lot like a fancy straw. God designed the butterfly with a proboscis to help them get the food they need.

A butterfly's wings protect it from predators.

Butterflies frequently use their wings as a defense mechanism. Either by folding their wings to blend in with their surroundings, or wearing a full spectrum of colors and patterns to frighten predators, a butterfly’s wings are often their best protection.

Butterflies actually have four wings, not two.

Despite how they may appear in motion, or in drawings or paintings, butterflies have four separate wings. The wings closest to its head are called the forewings, while those in the rear are called the hindwings. Thanks to strong muscles in the butterfly’s thorax, all four wings move up and down in a figure-eight pattern during flight.

Featured in: May/June 2022