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Top 10 Things You Wish You Knew About Butterfly Wings

March 19, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 175

We tend to admire butterfly wings for their captivating beauty. Our negligence in overlooking other fascinating facts about these wings is therefore quite excusable... but wouldn't you like to know more? Here are our top ten (well, maybe more) facts that you will be excited to learn.

Butterflies Have Scaled Wings

The scientific name for the butterfly/moth family is Lepidoptera. This word is derived from Greek roots meaning "scale wings." For scientists, the most obvious feature that separates butterflies and moths from other insects is their scaled wings. While we may not notice this immediately, closer inspection of a butterfly reveals the fact that their wings are made from tiny scales that are actually bulbous, modified feathers. The pigments of the scales on their wings come either from chemical pigments such as melanin or from plants and waste that build up during metamorphosis. If you look at macro photography pictures of these scales, you can see that the scales differ not only in color, they differ in shape. Some butterflies appear to have a "dusty" texture. When you look at macro photography shots of these butterflies, you will see that the round shaped scales actually look like an old, tightly woven carpet! Other butterflies appear to have a glossy or metallic texture. When you look at macro photography shots of these butterflies, you will notice that the scales are relatively flat with crisp, overlapping edges. Depending on the spacing between these flat, overlapping scales, reflective light waves interface to the degree that some wavelengths are cancelled out while others are enhanced - like the patterns on a soap bubble. This is why the famous morpho butterflies have a metallic, iridescent appearance.

For a moment, let's forget about the shape and coloring of these scales: there is something interesting that we discover by rubbing them all off: if the scales are removed, the wing that is left appears clear and slightly wrinkly - sort of like Saran Wrap! Some species of butterflies are in fact, scale-less. Collectors call them glass wing butterflies. Although these butterflies are interesting to look at, we have to wonder whether or not having no scales may be a slight disadvantage considering that the scales of butterfly wings are flexible and self-cleaning! Grooming may therefore be slightly more complicated for glass wings! One last fact about the scales on butterfly wings: they often change hue - or even color - when wet. The species Papilio Ulysses Ulysses is particularly beautiful to behold when it is wet: rather than its popular, vibrant blue, the wings appear to be a teal-ish green color when wet. Unfortunately, we rarely get to observe this detail in nature because butterflies hide from the rain - which leads us to our next round of interesting facts...

Wet Wings

When emerging from the chrysalis, a butterfly's wings are soft and flexible. If the butterfly does not extend the wings soon enough or wide enough, they will harden with folds that will cripple the butterfly and keep it from being able to fly the rest of its life. The drying process only takes about an hour. Each time a butterfly's wings get significantly wet, it runs the risk of having its wings ruined to some degree. This is one reason you will see butterflies on a leaf or branch flapping their wings and sitting in the sun. They may not be trying to attract any attention - they are striving to keep their wings healthy and strong. There is another reason you may observe this behavior though: butterflies need sunlight in order to fly. Their bodies must maintain a temperature of about 53 degrees Fahrenheit or 30 degrees Celsius or their flying muscles will not function properly - slow and sluggish, they are vulnerable to predator attack.

Eyespots & Tails

Many butterfly wings have eyespots or tails. Eyespots protect butterflies because birds will attack the eyespot first. Some eyespots are hidden from view until the forewing is pushed forward so that red eyes appear and surprise the predator long enough to make an escape. For similar reasons, many species of butterflies and moths have exquisite tails. While we admire these tails for their beauty, birds are not so discriminating - to them, these tails look like the long neck of a bug. Because necks represent a vulnerable portion of the anatomy of any creature, this is an obvious spot for birds to attack. Thus, even a successful attack on an eyespot or on a butterfly's tail will not be fatal and since butterflies can fly with up to 70% of their wings missing, a detached eyespot or tail will allow the butterfly to escape to safety.

Check back later for 10 more interesting facts!

Drew Briney is the owner of Wings & Things: The Butterfly Store, an author, a professional juggler, and a macro photography enthusiast (mostly butterflies, moths, & cool insects). You can see butterflies up close and personal butterflies at his Macro Photography Gallery. You can also visit his Macro Bug Gallery.

Source: EzineArticles
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