Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Insects - Butterfly or Moth

Butterflies & moths are closely related & belong to the same insect order (Lepidoptera), which is the 2nd largest after beetles [SEE: Beetles & Bugs on this blog, posted Sunday, 16 January 2011]. Distinguishing characteristics include: most butterflies fly by day, whilst most moths fly by night. A butterfly "drinks" nectar through its proboscis (= long, tube-like & hollow tongue) - whilst the nectar merely provides enough energy for flight (> only larva/caterpillar phase is the feeding stage of a butterfly's lifespan). When not "feeding", a butterfly's tongue is coiled up beneath its head. A sure way to also distinguish between the 2 species is their antennae - butterflies have club-tipped and thin antennae, whereas a moth's are feathery or finely pointed.

This (Common) Dotted Border butterfly (= same as above) is a frequent garden visitor all year round, with peaks in Oct & from late Feb-April. Other than getting its name from the black dots at the edges of its wings, it "poses" with its wings up (or the wings "meet" over the back) - in contrast to moths, whose wings usually are fanned out.

The underside of a butterfly's wings often is also markedly different from the "upper" wings, which is clearly "demonstrated" by this "swarm" of (Spotted) Joker Butterflies - the upper wings are deep orange, whereas the underside is paler (= the part that's usually "on view").

Taking an even closer look at this Garden Acraea butterfly's wings, it's interesting to note that the "dust" that rubs off easily from a captured butterfly is actually "scaly matter" from its wings - if rubbed off completely, only a transparent membrane with a network of veins is left. It's therefore the scales that provide the colour and patterns on a butterfly's wings!

The African Monarch butterfly is widespread in Africa as well as in Asia, where it's known as the Plain Tiger. The lifespanof an (adult) butterfly normally lasts several weeks, whilst the "full" life-cycle starts with the eggs (which an adult butterfly lies), from which caterpillars hatch (= this larva phase is the "proper" feeding stage), then the pupal stage follows (= non-eating phase) - lasting 2-3 weeks before a "perfect" adult insect emerges.

Did you know that a 3 500 year old Egyptian fresco in Luxor "features" the oldest illustration of a Monarch butterfly?

From a monarch to an emperor - with names like that, who can resist admiring these magnificent-looking insects? The "eyes" (= large spots) of an Emperor Moth are meant to deceive enemies or act as a warning to predators (like birds) - they instantly recoil at the sight of such large "glaring" eyes (also called the "startle effect"). In contrast to butterflies, (adult) moths do NOT feed (= they do not have mouth-parts > a butterfly's tongue) & therefore only have an average lifespan of approx. a week (= in the wild) - a moth's sole purpose is to mate & lay eggs, then die.

There's not only a variety of colour amongst Emperor moths, but some actually have "eyes" on the hindwings as well as on the forewings! So the "startle effect" is even greater when "meeting" a moth with 4 eyespots.

Did you know that an Emperor moth is more like a butterfly because it is brightly marked - & flies by day?

Although moths & butterflies are related, about 90% of this large insect order are moths. Accordingly it probably is easier to identify a butterfly than "coming to grips" with moths - as I certainly experience, because so far, I haven't been able to identify this moth. Moths like e.g. the silkworm, are "farmed" for the silk from their cocoons, whereas others, like the Mopane worm (= caterpillar) is a significant food resource in southern Africa.

In contrast to the interesting-looking moth above, I do know that this is a "typical" Looper moth. These species of moths (there are several) have broad wings & a narrow body, are mostly nocturnal, & when resting, spread their wings flat against the surface.

Did you know that someone, who watches moths as a pastime (= hobby > specialist) is called a mother? To distinguish this word from its usual meaning it's often written with a hyphen (= moth-er), even if in speech, it's pronounced differently.

Another look at a Looper moth - this one was photographed quite a while ago by our son-in-law, & to this day, I insist that it's the "prettiest" moth I've ever seen, because it appears to be "decked" with jewels (e.g. pearls)!? Also, what a great photo - thanks to Quinton, who doesn't mind "sharing" his photos with me.

However "pretty", many moths (& particularly caterpillars) are a major agricultural pest in many parts of the world. Some larvae also eat fabric, mostly with natural fibers such as wool or silk (> artificial fibers). To end: I'm not able to say for sure if this is also a Looper moth - it certainly has the characteristic look of a moth, also finely pointed antennae (= 1 of the distinguishing features of a moth - if not feathery antennae).

1 comment:

Murtu said...

Below the Emporer moth

Thyretes caffra - Bar Maiden
Pingasa abyssiniaria - Duster
Somatina virginalis -
Notarcha quaternalis - Fourth Pearl