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About Butterflies



Butterflies are flying insects with two pairs of large, colorful wings. Butterflies are strong fliers, but they can only fly if their body temperature is higher than 86 degrees Fahrenheit, or 30 degrees Celsius. In cooler weather, butterflies spread their wings in the sun to warm their bodies.

Imagine sucking up a drink through your tongue. You wouldn’t need a straw to drink soda pop. You would just stick your tongue in and slurp.

This is how most butterflies eat. They stick their tongues into flowers and suck up sweet juices. Butterflies have long, hollow tongues. The shortest tongues are less than an inch long. The longest tongues are several inches long.


Colorful wings help butterflies find each other. Often male and female butterflies have different colors or patterns on their wings. Butterflies can see colors and patterns.

Colored wings help some butterflies hide from birds and other enemies. Some butterflies have spots on their wings that look like big eyes. The “eyes” scare enemies away.

Some brightly colored butterflies, such as monarchs, taste really bad to birds that try to eat them. Birds learn not to eat these butterflies. Other butterflies have a simpler trick: They look like bad-tasting butterflies. Monarchs and viceroys are both colored orange and black. Viceroys taste good, but birds leave them alone because viceroys are the same color as monarchs.


Butterflies suck up flower juices called nectar. Some suck tree sap and juices from rotting fruit. Some males suck up salts from mud puddles or from decaying animals. Some adults do not eat at all.

Many butterflies help plants reproduce. They pick up and carry pollen grains from flower to flower while they are feeding. Pollen grains are the male sex cells of plants. The pollen fertilizes the plant.


Butterflies can smell, but they do not have noses. They use two antennae on top of their heads for smelling.

Butterflies can also taste. Their sense of taste comes from little hairs on their feet.


Butterflies live in almost every part of the world except the South Pole and the oceans. Most butterflies live among flowers in sunny fields and on hillsides.

More kinds of butterflies live in the tropics than anywhere else. The tropics are places that are warm all year round.


Some kinds of butterflies hibernate during the winter. Hibernation is a kind of deep sleep. The insects do not need to eat when they are hibernating.

Other kinds of butterflies go to warm places for the winter. The painted lady butterfly lives in Europe and Alaska during the summer. It flies to North Africa and Mexico for the winter.

The monarch butterfly lives in the United States and southern Canada during the summer. In the fall, monarchs fly south to Mexico or California. A monarch butterfly may fly more than 2,000 miles (3,000 kilometers). They start flying north in spring. Most of them die along the way. But the females lay eggs. New monarchs that hatch from the eggs finish the trip north.


Butterflies start out as eggs. Butterflies lay their eggs on leaves. The egg hatches into a caterpillar with a tube-shaped body. The caterpillar eats leaves, buds, or flowers of plants. Caterpillars eat a lot and grow fast. Some caterpillars harm plants.

When a caterpillar is full size, it goes into another stage called a chrysalis. Caterpillars attach themselves to something solid before becoming a chrysalis.

The caterpillar inside the chrysalis changes into a butterfly. Some butterflies make the change in one week. Some butterflies take years to change.

When the change is complete, the adult butterfly splits the chrysalis. The insect unfolds its wings and pumps blood and air into them. It spreads out the wings until they dry and harden. The beautiful butterfly then flies off to slurp nectar from flowers. Most butterflies live only one or two weeks.


Butterflies are closely related to moths, another type of insect. One difference between butterflies and moths is how their antennae look. Butterflies have knobs called clubs on the tips of their antennae. Moths do not.

Many kinds of moths have dull gray or brown wings. Most butterflies have wings with colorful patterns. In addition, most moths fly at night. Most butterflies are active during the day.



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