Butterfly coloring page

All About Butterflies

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Video Transcript:

Hey there, I’m Yvonne and you’re watching Color and Chill, the show that soothes your eyes, your ears, and your soul. I make videos to help you relax, fall asleep, and just overall chill out by slowly and quietly reading you stories or sharing some new facts that I’ve recently learned, while coloring a picture on your computer, tablet, or telephone screen. If that sounds like something you’re interested in, you should definitely subscribe now, just in case you fall asleep while watching this video and then can never find your way back, as sometimes happens in the YouTube world. Today’s Friday so that means it’s another episode of “Facts to Fall Asleep” and today we’re going to be learning all about butterflies. 

Now a few things to note here before we begin. 1. We do talk about butterfly reproduction a bit so if you’re a parent with kids watching to this, please monitor accordingly. 2. If you’re not interested in listening to me talking really slowly about butterflies and came to this video to learn something specific, I’ve put timecodes in the description below for all of the topics we’ll cover so you can feel free to skip around if you’d prefer to watch it that way. 

So now let’s settle down into a comfortable spot, take a few deep breaths in and out slowly to relax, and get started learning all about butterflies. 

There are about 17,500 species of butterflies in the world and only about 750 of those are in the United States. They’re found on every continent, except for Antarctica. They can live in rainforests, deserts, grasslands, the tundra, and our own backyards! For the most part, they really like warm, tropical areas, like the rainforest, which may be why some scientists believe there are many more species we don’t yet know about, many hidden away in the rainforests. 

 Butterflies are insects in the order of Lepidoptera, along with moths and skippers, which you may never have heard of, but don’t worry, we’ll talk about skippers too in a moment. Firstly though, the word Lepidoptera comes from the Greek words “lepis” which means scale and “pteron” which means wing- so basically, the order of scale wings. This is because, as you’ve probably already guessed, all of these insects have scales on their wings. In fact, butterfly wings are covered by thousands of tiny scales that reflect light in different colors. Underneath are layers of a protein called chitin. These layers of chitin are so thin that you can actually see right through them. As a butterfly gets older, the scales start to fall off the wings and they’re left with just the chitin layers, which are see-through, or transparent. 

Though it may seem like the 17,500  plus species of butterflies is a huge amount, when you compare it to how many species of moths there are, it’s actually not that big of a number, especially when you consider that butterflies and skippers only make up 6-11% of the species within the Lepidoptera order, while moths making up to 89-94%. All together, there are at least 160,000 species of moths and butterflies within the Lepidoptera order and some believe that there may actually be closer to half a million different species. 

One thing I really wanted to find out about for this video is the relationship between butterflies and moths. Are they same thing? If not, what really makes them different? We humans tend to revere butterflies for their beauty while at the same time disdaining moths, though that may have something to do with their habit of eating clothes…I’m not really sure. But really, are moths just plain looking butterflies or something completely different? Little did I know that this isn’t all that easy of a question to answer and when you throw Skippers into the equation, which totally happened, it becomes even more confusing. Basically, butterflies are big and brightly colored, and moths are small and dully colored. Skippers, however, are essentially butterflies that look like moths. And when you consider the vast number of different species, many of which refuse to play by the rules that guide classification, it’s just a big ol’ rabbit hole, so I’m going to try to do my best to explain, but forgive me if I don’t get it completely right.
Here are some ways to tell butterflies and moths apart:

Perhaps the easiest way to tell them apart is that butterflies are generally larger with more colorful patterns on their wings while moths are more brown, grey, and white colored. Unless they’re skippers. Then they’re larger and dull. Like I said, confusing. Additionally, when resting, butterflies tend to fold their wings vertically up over their backs while moths hold them close to their bodies. Skippers fold their front wings at a different angle from their back wings.

But if that doesn’t give it away, you can always examine their antennae. A butterfly’s antennae are long with a bulb at the end of each while moth’s are feathery or saw edged. Skipper antennae look like butterfly’s except they’re sort of hook shaped at the end, instead of a bulb.

Butterflies tend to be out and about during the day while moths are generally nocturnal, flying at night time, though that’s not always the case. But let’s pretend that’s the case and just assume that if we see one flying out during the day that it’s a butterfly or a skipper and if it’s dark out, it’s a moth.

Finally, cocoons. All butterflies, moths, and skippers build some sort of cocoon but they do it slightly differently. Moth caterpillars spin the silk around their bodies while butterflies and skippers spin a pad of silk onto a stem and then hang from it and form their cocoon, which is actually called a chrysalis in this case, using their own bodies.

Speaking of caterpillars though, do all caterpillars turn into butterflies, moths, and skippers? Well, yes and no. All true caterpillars do but there are other insects like centipedes and millipedes or velvet worms that might be mistaken for caterpillars, but aren’t actually the same thing and they don’t go through the metamorphosis process to become flying insects. One way to tell a true caterpillar from an imposter is that caterpillars have only six jointed legs, at the front of their bodies with many prolegs that will disappear during their transformation. That may or may not be helpful in identifying a caterpillar so you might want to google a few pictures to get a better idea.

But I think we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here, Let’s rewind and go back to the beginning. The beginning of a butterfly’s life that is. 

Female butterflies lay tiny eggs on plants in the spring, summer, or fall, depending on the species. They lay a lot of eggs at a time to increase the likelihood that at least some of them will survive. When eggs hatch, larva or caterpillars emerge and they begin to eat, eat, eat, and eat some more. They start by eating the plant they’ve hatched on and then move on from there. They can grow up to 100 times larger during this stage. A butterfly egg may only be the size of a pinhead so they’re very tiny when they’re born but they’ll grow up to a few inches long over the next several weeks after hatching. Because of the rapid growth, a caterpillar can shed its skin about 4-5 times during this stage. 

 

Once the caterpillar is fully grown it will stop eating and now it’s time for big changes. Though moths make silk cocoons that wrap around them, butterfly caterpillars make a little silk pad on a branch or leaf and then hang from it and become their own cocoon, known as a chrysalis. I’ll link to a video that shows a time lapse of this happening in the description in case you’d like to see that very amazing process. At this point, the butterfly is known as either a pupa or simply a chrysalis. Either terms works and, depending on the species, they can stay in this stage for anywhere from a few weeks to up to two years! Though it may look like nothing much is happening from the outside, inside special cells are growing rapidly to become the legs, eyes, wings, and more. It’s a good thing they ate so much during their caterpillar stage because that energy is really needed now. As one biologist, Professor Martha Weiss put it, “they go through a biological meltdown that reduces them to soup. “I mean, that’s what I learned,” she continues, “is that the caterpillar turned to a minestrone soup and then those ingredients that made up the caterpillar were completely reorganized into a butterfly that threw away the leftovers that it didn’t need from the soup.” What an interesting way to imagine what’s going on inside there!

Finally, the adult butterfly emerges, looking very different from its young caterpillar self. Its stubby legs have become long and delicate and so have their antennae. Butterflies can’t fly immediately when emerging from their chrysalis, because their wings are still tiny and shriveled up. They must pump body fluid through their wing veins to expand them to their full size. Then, they have to rest for a few hours so their bodies can dry and harden before flying. 

Side note: in order to fly, butterflies need an ideal body temperature of about 85 degrees Fahrenheit or 29.4 degrees Celsius, but since they’re cold blooded, their bodies can’t control their body temperatures so they rely on the air temperature around them. Between 82-100 degrees Fahrenheit, is the ideal temperature for butterflies to fly. On cooler days, they may be able to warm up their muscles by shivering or basking in the sun, but if it falls below 55 degrees, butterflies become basically immobile and aren’t able to fly, feed, or escape from predators.

Once a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, it’s completely done growing at this point so they don’t need to eat nearly as much as when they were caterpillars. In fact, the caterpillar has transformed from a leaf munching little monster to an elegant creature that can now only drink liquids. This is because the mouthparts of a butterfly allow them to drink but they can’t chew. The proboscis, which works like a straw and is one of the first things a butterfly must assemble after hatching from its chrysalis, is a long little tube which normally stays curled up, but when the butterfly finds nectar or something else they want to drink, it unfurls and the butterfly can consume its meals. 

Butterfly feet have taste receptors which help them located food. When they step on something they can basically sense the dissolved sugars to taste the food sources.

Not all butterflies actually even do eat during this stage, but if they do, their diet is made up mostly of nectar, which is the sugary fluid secreted by plants, especially flowers, in order to pollinate. Bees use it to make honey as well. If you’re wishing to feed butterflies but don’t have the space to plant butterfly attracting flowers, you can buy or make your own nectar feeder by dissolving one part sugar in four parts very hot water and then placing this sugar solution in a dish with a brightly colored sponge inside. Clean your dish and replace the solution every few days and keep in mind that the nectar will also attract bees. 

Though nectar makes up most of a butterfly’s diet, it also needs minerals, so occasionally they will drink from mud puddles in a behavior named “puddling.” This is mostly done by males, who incorporate the minerals into their sperm and then transfer it to the female during mating. This helps improve the viability of her eggs.

And that brings us to the butterfly’s main purpose while living in this stage: reproduction. Butterflies, in general, only live about 2-4 weeks after emerging from their chrysalis. This isn’t a solid rule though because some species may only survive a few days, while others, like monarch butterflies can live up to nine months. Usually butterflies that live longer periods hibernate over winter in warm climates and that’s how they survive.

Male and female butterflies recognize one another by the size, shape, color and vein structure of wings as well as through scent pheromones. During mating, male butterflies generally use clasping organs on their abdomens to grasp females but in some species, males will just mate with the female while she’s still in her chrysalis. In most species, male and female butterflies look very much alike but the female’s abdomen may be larger to accommodate the eggs they’ll need to carry. Females store the sperm from a male after mating in a sac called a bursa until she’s ready to lay her eggs.

 

Now comes the important task of finding the perfect place to lay her eggs. They have to be kept warm and at the perfect humidity level because if it’s too wet, the eggs can rot or be attacked by fungus but if it’s not wet enough, they can dry out. Also, since, as we know, caterpillars need to eat as soon as they hatch, finding a plant they can munch on to lay her eggs is pretty important. However, a few butterfly species will lay their eggs in anthills or other predators’ nests, disguising their eggs with pheromones to keep them safe.

Using the same taste receptors on her feet that she uses to identify food, a female butterfly can also figure out where to lay her eggs. She does this by stomping the leaves of a plant with her feet until it releases its juices and the chemoreceptors on the back of her legs detect the right match of plant chemicals. She will lay her eggs only when she detects the right plant match. She uses the bursa to fertilize the eggs as she is laying them. She may lay eggs one at a time or by the hundreds, depending on the species. It’s important that she lays so many eggs because the chances of an egg making it all the way to adulthood is really small. Predators like ants, birds, and bats love to eat caterpillars and butterflies. Additionally, parasitic wasps will lay their eggs on a caterpillar and when the eggs hatch, they kill the caterpillar and then the larva feed on the caterpillar’s body. Not an ideal way to go but what can you do? Nature, am I right?

Though females only lay one set of eggs before dying, males may mate with several females and will die eventually after he’s depleted all of his sperm. Interestingly, in the rare case that a female doesn’t mate and lay eggs, her life will be prolonged. I have so many snarky comments that I could add here but I won’t. Let’s move on.

Butterflies don’t really have the ability to fight off predators so instead they have to utilize some tricky strategies to survive. Some use camouflage to blend into their environments, becoming essentially invisible to predators, while others have evolved to be purposely bright and boldly colored, standing out. This is because brightly colored insects tend to be toxic when eaten so predators may avoid them if they’re very bright and bold, convinced that they’ll be poisoned by them.

Speaking of colors, butterflies can see considerably more colors than humans can, including a range of ultraviolet colors that are invisible to humans. Some butterflies may have ultraviolet marking on their wings to make it possible for them to identify each other and find potential mates. Likewise, flowers may have ultraviolet markings that attract pollinators like butterflies. That being said, they’re at a bit of a disadvantage since they can only see 10-12 feet in front of them but anything further than that is blurry. Scientists used to believe butterflies were deaf, until 1912, when the first butterfly ears few detected. In fact, they have tiny ears on its wings that can distinguish low and high pitched sounds, like what they might hear from a bird approaching, for example.

The most common butterfly is the Painted Lady butterfly, which is orange and brown and can be found everywhere except Antarctica, Australia, and South America. They feed on over 300 species of plants like thistles, mallows, hollyhocks, and more. They have splashes and dots of colors on their wings, which is how you can tell them apart from another very popular butterfly, the Monarch butterfly. The big difference is that instead of the patchy pattern of the Painted Lady all over the wings, the Monarch butterfly has orange wings with black striping that turns into a black border with white dots around it. Funny enough, both of these species of butterflies are migrating butterflies but the Monarch is the only butterfly known to make a two-way migration, which is really interestin, so let’s talk a little about that now.

 

Monarch butterflies, which are actually toxic, by the way, because of all the milkweed they eat as caterpillars, may or may not migrate. Some groups born in warm areas like Florida may never leave their homes. The ones that do generally begin their lives in Southern Canada or parts of the northern United States and make their way south in September and October down to Mexico, the coast of California, or another warm location. They are helped along in their journeys by wind currents to make their 3,000 mile trek. They travel between 50 and 100 miles per day, with the record daily travel for a butterfly being 265 miles. They travel only during the day and roost together at night. Pine, fir, and cedar trees are frequently chosen monarch-motels since they have thick canopies to moderate the temperatures and humidity. Monarchs cluster together in trees to stay warm. In fact, tens of thousands can cluster in a single tree. Though a single butterfly may seem as light as a feather, tens of thousands of them together sometimes can even break branches from the combined weight.

In the morning they bask in the sunlight to recharge before setting flight again. When they finish their migration, they lay eggs in their winter home that will hatch, grow, and in March, this new generation will begin to migrate back up north. The return migration may actually take 3-4 generations before getting all the way back to their great grandparent’s starting place. No single butterfly will make the trip both ways. It’s believed that changing temperatures and daylight patterns clue the butterflies into the fact that it’s time to start moving. Scientists can track the migration patterns by tagging butterflies and by using apps that allow people to report sightings of monarchs, which when compiled, can help identify breeding areas and conservation needs.

It’s been determined that monarch butterflies, though qualified for endangered status, are precluded by other, more endangered animals, for this status and the protections and conservations it would afford. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, they will continue to be reconsidered yearly until 2024 for endangered states though, which is good since in the last 40 years, monarchs have lost between 80-99 percent of their population in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. Because there are 161 other species that are higher priority for protections, and because populations elsewhere in the world are still healthy, they’ve been put on the waiting list instead. Luckily, several programs are already taking steps to protect Monarchs and I’ll link to some of them below. If you want to help their population and you live in an area where butterflies lay their eggs, you can help by planting nectar-rich plants and milkweed in your yard to help provide both the butterflies and their caterpillar babies with food. Milkweed, which often grows between crops in farmers fields and is often killed with weedkillers, is the only food Monarch butterfly caterpillars can eat. There is now a federal program that pays farmers to preserve land for pollinator-friendly plants. More still needs to be done to help these lovely insects survive into future generations, of course, but this is a good start.

The Palos Verdes Blue Butterfly is one of the rarest butterflies known to us in the world. Native to the Palos Verdes Peninsula in California, they were once considered to be extinct but were rediscovered in 1984 at the Defense Fuel Support Point in San Pedro, California, on the northern side of the Palos Verde Peninsula. In 2020, roughly 1,000 Palos Verdes Blues at various life stages were released in four different, top-secret locations so hopefully their populations can continue to grow and thrive.

Finally, though there are so many interesting topics we could continue exploring about butterflies, I’m sure, I want to finish up with one final fact: Moths, and therefore presumably, butterflies can remember their lives from when they were caterpillars. Being that they’re insects with very small brains, it’s not a given that this is the case so a team of scientists at Georgetown University set out to test whether this was true. First of all, they already knew from previous observations and studies that both caterpillars and moths could learn new things, but it wasn’t known whether the moths would retain knowledge from their youth after emerging from their cocoons. So, using what they’d already learned, scientists set up a little training session with Tobacco Hornworm Moth caterpillars where they gave them tiny little electrical shocks every time they smelled ethyl acetate, which is a chemical commonly found in nail polish remover. Soon, caterpillars knew to avoid the smell because they didn’t want to be shocked. Now scientists would wait for several weeks for the caterpillars to turn into moths, and tested whether they’d continue to avoid the ethyl acetate or if they’d forgotten the experience of their youth. Guess what? Most of them remembered and steered clear of the chemical they still associated with shocks. This proved that during the minestrone soup process of transformation they experience, their nervous systems at least remained intact.

On that note, I think it’s time to finish up this episode of Fact to Fall Asleep. If you’re still awake, I suggest you go check out another one of the videos from this series and learn something else or maybe try a Soothing Sleepy Story, which feature fairytales, folklore, and more. As always, I thank you so much for spending time with me tonight. Please like this video and subscribe to this channel and come back and color and chill with me again soon.

Bye.

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