I think that while a lot of people don’t care for bugs in general, most of us like butterflies. And how can you not? I mean, they’re butterflies, right? They are colorful, graceful, and beautiful.
Butterflies are a class of insects called Lepidoptera, which means “scaled wings.” Many people confuse butterflies with moths, and though they are quite similar, there are basic differences between the two species. One of the easiest ways to determine between the two is when you see them. Most butterflies fly during the day, while moths usually fly at night. Because they attract mates through their coloring, butterflies are often more colorful than moths. Moths also have a thicker coding of scales than butterflies, which makes them look furry. And moths are more abundant than butterflies. While there are close to 250,000 species of moths, there are only about 20,000 different kinds of butterflies.
The largest known butterflies are the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing, with a wingspan of up to one foot. They are found in the rain forest in northern Papua, New Guinea. At the other end of the scale is the Pigmy Blue butterfly, which are found in the United States and are just over a half inch across the wingspan.
Much like bees, butterflies play an important role in plant pollination. They sip nectar from flowers through their proboscis much like a person would with a straw. In the process, they pick up pollen on their legs, which is deposited on other plants as they continue to feed. In addition to nectar from plants, some butterfly species also feed on rotting fruit, carrion, and even animal excrement. They are also a source of food for larger animals including birds, spiders, lizards, and other insects.
In the wild, most butterflies have a lifespan from seven to ten days, assuming they are not eaten by predators. In captivity, they have been known to live for two to three weeks. Because they are very sensitive to changes in their environment, butterflies are good indicators of when Mother Nature is out of balance, either through natural changes or man-made problems. Scientists use them to study things like loss of habitat, climate change, and the impact of pesticides.
A good place to see some amazing butterflies and learn about them is at the Florida Museum’s Butterfly Rainforest, located just off of Interstate 75 in Gainesville. This amazing 6,400-square-foot screened living exhibit features hundreds of free-flying butterflies and birds from around the world, along with other animals including turtles and fish, all in a lush landscape of tropical trees and colorful flowering plants. The rainforest’s walking paths take visitors through a beautiful landscape of plants, flowers, and waterfalls. The exhibit features around 50 different species of butterflies and moths, with approximately 1,000 flying around at any given time.
As visitors explore the exhibit, skilled staff are on hand to answer questions and point out things about the different species of butterflies and their life cycles.
The butterflies in the exhibit come from butterfly firms around the world, and the plants and butterflies in the exhibit are changed on a regular basis. The butterflies in the exhibit typically live two to five weeks.
Located on the University of Florida campus in Gainesville, at 3215 Hull Road, the facility is handicapped accessible. A limited number of courtesy manual wheelchairs are available for free on a first-come, first-serve basis. Visitors can request a wheelchair at the Visitor Services Desk at the front entrance. The Florida Museum of Natural History allows the use of trained service animals by individuals with disabilities. Comfort animals, emotional support animals and pets are not permitted in the museum.
Operating hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 1 -5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.
Parking could be difficult for large vehicles, so you are advised to leave your RV at a local campground when you visit. Admission is $14 for adults, $12 for Florida residents and college students, $12 for seniors, and $7 for ages 3-17. Open year-round, the museum is one of the country’s top five natural history museums. For more information, call 352-846-2000.
*Note – Some photos courtesy of the Florida Museum.
Thought For The Day – My wife and I both have bad colds. The difference is, she’s in the kitchen washing dishes and I’m in my recliner dying.