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Superfamily Papilionoidea - Butterflies (excluding skippers)

Variegated Fritillary - Euptoieta claudia Red Admiral - Vanessa atalanta BG1403 280-079 - Feniseca tarquinius Northern Orange or Clouded Sulphur? - Colias eurytheme - female Mating Butterflies - Cupido comyntas - male - female Southwestern Azure (cinerea) - Celastrina echo Giant Swallowtail - Papilio cresphontes
Show images of: caterpillars · adults · both
Classification
Kingdom Animalia (Animals)
Phylum Arthropoda (Arthropods)
Subphylum Hexapoda (Hexapods)
Class Insecta (Insects)
Order Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths)
Superfamily Papilionoidea (Butterflies (excluding skippers))
Other Common Names
Spanish: Mariposa
French: Papillon
Synonyms and other taxonomic changes
BugGuide primarily follows the taxonomy and nomenclature in A Catalogue of the Butterflies of the United States and Canada by Jonathan Pelham (1). (see this discussion)
Explanation of Names
The origin of the word butterfly is uncertain. Modern English butterfly is from Middle English boterflye, thence from Old English buttorfleoge, a compound word, corresponding to butter + fly. There are at least three theories as to the connection of butterfly to butter:
1-Butter refers to the color of yellow species, i.e., the Sulfurs, in particular, European species such as the Common Brimstone (Wiktionary--butterfly). Under this scheme, the meaning of the compound buttorfleoge is "yellow flier" (Partridge, 1958). It is not clear why the sulfur family was chosen to represent, linguistically, the group.
2-Butterflies are attracted to milk and butter churns. (Alternatively, there were related folk tales that butterflies were spirits that stole cream.) The German word for butterfly, schmetterling has, perhaps, similar connotations (Butterfly etymology).
3-A Dutch word for butterfly is (or was) boterschijte, allegedly referring to the color of its excrement, (Oxford English Dictionary?, quoted in various Internet sources). This is, perhaps, a linguistic connection, but it is not clear how! (Dutch and English are closely related languages.) This derivation is rather implausible, since butterflies do not excrete solid waste, but the linguistic parallel is suggestive.
For a good summary, see the discussion from A World for Butterflies and also Scott (2).
Papilionoidea is from Latin papilio/papilionis, a butterfly or moth. Papilio is a prominent genus of swallowtail butterflies.
Size
wingspan 7-300 millimetres
Identification
Butterflies have thin antennae with "knobs" on the end and are typically active during the day.
Range
throughout North America
world-wide, except Antarctica
Habitat
Habitats are varied, but adult butterflies are typical of open, sunny places, such as old fields. Some groups are typical of woodlands.
Food
Adult butterflies use their coiled mouthparts to suck nectar from flowers. In the process they may transfer pollen from one flower to another, and many plants depend on butterflies or moths for pollination.
Most caterpillars eat the leaves of certain plants. See World Database of Lepidopteran Hostplants.
Life Cycle
These insects undergo complete metamorphosis; that is, each individual goes through four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.
   
Remarks
Gender differences: "In some there are dramatic differences in pattern, scaling, structure, or shape, but in most it is more subtle. In some groups (i.e. Swallowtails) you can tell just by seeing the side or bottom of the tip of the abdomen, because the male claspers (=valvae) are very visible. In other groups (including the subfamily Nymphalinae) the claspers are harder to see, but are still there, and affect the shape of the abdomen. The tip of the abdomen in males has the pair of claspers, which even if hidden by a clump of hair-like scales, gives the tip of the abdomen a blunt look from the side, and usually a slightly squared or bilobed look from above or below (nearly pointed in females). Also, the abdomen of females tends to be plump and rather symmetrical in shape, widest near the middle or sometimes the base, while the abdomen of the males is usually more slender and especially from the side less symmetrical in shape, with a tendency to be slightly widest near the end. Often males have proportionately longer abdomens, but this is more noticeable in some groups than others. In most of the family Nymphalidae, the males have the wings less full and less rounded, often somewhat more angular in shape. The hind wing of males is often distinctly more angular at the hind end (near the tip of the abdomen), while in females it is usually much more rounded. On average males tend to be smaller than females, and often more active and more inclined to chase after things or act aggressively." Comment by David J. Ferguson,
See Also
Skippers, which are butterflies but are placed in their own superfamily, Hesperioidea.
    
    
Print References
Field Guides
Brock and Kaufman, Butterflies of North America (3)
Glassberg, et al., Butterflies Through Binoculars: The East (4), Butterflies Through Binoculars: The West (5), Butterflies through Binoculars: Florida (6)
Opler et al., A Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies (7), A Field Guide to Western Butterflies (8)
Pyle, National Audubon Society Field Guide to Butterflies (9)
see also listings under butterfly books
Life History/Caterpillars
Allen et al., A Field Guide to Caterpillars--covers most butterfly caterpillars (10)
Allen, The Butterflies of West Virginia and Their Caterpillars--extensive life-history information (11)
Pyle and Hughes, Handbook for Butterfly Watchers (12)
Schappert, A World for Butterflies: Their Lives, Habitats and Future--good discussion of mimicry complexes (13)
Scott, The Butterflies of North America--comprehensive reference on taxonomy and life histories (2)
Wagner, Caterpillars of Eastern North America--covers many butterfly and moth caterpillars (14)
Other references
Partridge, Eric (1958). Origins, A Short Etymological History of Modern English. New York: Macmillan.
Internet References
Getting Into Butterflies by Larry Orsak
Butterflies of Canada (Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility)
An old (May 2003) PDF list of scientific names for North American Butterflies by Opler & Warren.
Works Cited
1.A Catalogue of the Butterflies of the United States and Canada--by Jonathan P. Pelham
2.The Butterflies of North America: A Natural History and Field Guide
James A. Scott. 1992. Stanford University Press.
3.Butterflies of North America (Kaufman Focus Guides)
Jim P. Brock, Kenn Kaufman. 2003. Houghton Mifflin Co.
4.Butterflies Through Binoculars: The East
Jeffrey Glassberg. 1999. Oxford University Press.
5.Butterflies Through Binoculars: The West : A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Western North America (Butterflies and Others Thr
Jeffrey Glassberg. 2001. Oxford University Press.
6.Butterflies through Binoculars: Florida
Jeffrey Glassberg, Marc C. Minno, John V. Calhoun. 2000. Oxford Press.
7.A Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies (Peterson Field Guides)
Paul A. Opler, Vichai Malikul, Roger Tory Peterson. 1992. Houghton Mifflin Company.
8.A Field Guide to Western Butterflies 2nd Edition
Paul A. Opler, illustrated by Amy Bartlett Wright. 1999. Houghton Mifflin.
9.National Audubon Society Field Guide to Butterflies
Robert Michael Pyle. 1981. Knopf.
10.Caterpillars in the Field and Garden: A Field Guide to the Butterfly Caterpillars of North America
Thomas J. Allen, James P. Brock, Jeffrey Glassberg. 2005. Oxford University Press.
11.The Butterflies of West Virginia and Their Caterpillars
Thomas J. Allen. 1998. University of Pittsburgh Press.
12.Handbook for Butterfly Watchers
Robert Michael Pyle and Sarah Hughes. 1992. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
13.A World for Butterflies: Their Lives, Habitats and Future
Phillip J. Schappert. 2000. Firefly Books.
14.Caterpillars of Eastern North America
David L. Wagner. 2005. Princeton University Press.