Having being brought up among flowering shrubs, over a hundred variety of cactuses, and rows and rows of carefully potted orchids, together with a menagerie of pets (6 Pekinese, 2 mongrels, 2 tortoises, a cat), several aquariums of fish, birds (a magpie and a large English Koekoe cockerel), and a squirrel, life at home was always exciting. Not surprisingly, butterflies do catch my attention. Lepidoptera are brightly coloured flying insects with two pairs of large wings that vary in colour and pattern from species to species. Butterfly wings are covered with overlapping rows of tiny scales, a characteristic butterflies share with their fellow lepidopterans, the moths. A caterpillar’s first meal is its own eggshell. It then spends most of its time eating the leaves of the plant on which it hatched. An adult butterfly uncoils its long, straw-like proboscis to sip nectar from flowers, juice from rotting fruit and water from puddles. Exact numbers are not known since there are about 17,500 species of butterflies spread throughout almost the entire world. Most migrate relatively short distances, but monarchs and several other species migrate thousands of miles.
Many butterflies have developed interesting ways of defending themselves from predators. One method is disguise, or “cryptic colouration”, where the butterfly has the ability to look like a leaf or blend into the bark of a tree to hide from predators. Another method is chemical defense, where the butterfly has evolved to have toxic chemicals in its body. These species of butterfly are often brightly colored, and predators have learned over time to associate their bright color with the bad taste of the chemicals. The greatest threats to butterflies are habitat change and loss due to residential, commercial and agricultural development. Climate change is also threatening species of butterfly.