Butterfly & Moth Characteristics



Wildlife in Cornwall

Butterflies & Moths


Butterfly & Moth


Butterfly & Moth
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Lepidopterans, i.e. butterflies and moths are insects, and like all insects their bodies are made up of three fundamental sections; the head, thorax and abdomen. On the head are two large compound eyes, two antennae and a long curled proboscis.

It is a common misnomer that the antenna are feelers. Rather than a organ of touch they are an organ of smell. With butterflies the antenna are clubbed while in moths they are tapered. In some species of moths the antenna are enlarged into feathered organs. Increasing the surface area of the antenna produces a highly sensitive smell organ, particularly so with males. Being night animals seeking a mate visually is not an option, instead males seek by smell, picking up pheromones produced by females.


Butterflies and moths feed on nectar, as seen in the image on the right. Nectar is obtained from flower heads by uncoiling and flattening the proboscis and then sucking the nectar up through it.

The compound eyes of lepidopterans are large, they do not provide good resolution but are very good in sensing movement. Moths' visual range extends into the ultraviolet spectrum improving sight at night. However this does lead them to be drawn to light sources.


Butterfly extending probosis to feed.

Butterfly Extending Probosis to Feed




The sense of taste is not only through the mouth but also by sensors located underneath their feet. The thorax is comprised of three distinct sections, each section bearing a pair of legs. It is on the thorax where both pairs of wings are attached to the body.


The coloured patterns of the wings are created by scales. Scales produce colour by being filled by pigment or their surface is ribbed or grooved to refract light, producing the effect of colour.

The scales are attached to a transparent membrane in a similar way as roof tiles are fixed to a roof. The scales vary in colour and size. The scales can be seen under a microscope, as shown in the image on the right . Where the scales have been scaped off, the membrane is visible.


Scales seen under a microscope. The see through membrane can be seen where scales have been scraped off.

Scales Seen Under a Microscope 




The abdomen is made up of ten segments. Within the abdomen are contained the reproduction, excretory and digestion organs.








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