Of all the millions of species of insects, the butterfly has about 20,000 species worldwide and is the most admired for its beauty and for its metamorphosis (transformation) that has four stages. First is the egg, which hatches into a caterpillar (or larva), then the caterpillar builds a pupa (or chrysalis aka cocoon) and then emerges as the adult butterfly. The work that a butterfly does is very important to our environment and to food sources. Since they are able to get deeper into a flower than a bee, they pollinate much of our food that bees do not. Unfortunately, many species of butterflies are dying off because of deforestation as well as herbicides that kill the plants that they rely on for food. We have picked out eight of the most beautiful and unique butterflies for your enjoyment.
Emerald Swallowtail (Papilio palinurus)
Swallowtails are a certain species of butterflies that usually have hindwings that are spread apart with little tails that stick out and on this Swallowtail the tails are black or green. This gem of a butterfly lives in Southeast Asia or Australia and is an endangered species. They have a large wing span of 4.7-5.5 inches. The Emeralds are unique as the bands of color on the wings can appear to be green or blue as the concave surface of their wings reflect a yellow-green light and the edges reflect a blue light. This light is like fluorescent and scientists want to copy it to make lights.
Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)
This beautiful butterfly is a reddish-orange with black spots and isn’t very well known but has a distinct hook-like shape on the sides of its wings making it unique. Their name of Question Mark was given them due to the white question mark-shaped spot on the underside of the wings. Question Marks live in southern Canada and northern America and sometimes migrate to Arizona or Mexico. Unlike other butterfly females, they do not lay eggs on leaves that the caterpillars like to eat so when they hatch, they need to hunt down a host plant. Question Marks can be found in wooded areas around trees and parks eating tree sap or discarded fruit.
Bay Checkerspot (Euphydryas editha bayensis)
This gorgeous butterfly of bright red, yellow, and white with black bands is where the Checkerspot gets its name. Their home is in the San Francisco Bay area and the mountains near San Jose of California. They normally emerge in early spring and only live about ten days, which is enough time to mate and produce eggs. The female can lay up to five masses containing 250 eggs each on plantain plants that the caterpillar thrives on but are becoming hard to find. The Bay Checkerspot have been a federally threatened species since 1987 due to several habitat reasons but mostly due to the emission of nitrogen that is killing off the nectar producing plants that are their main source of food.
Queen Alexandra Birdwing (Ornithoptera alexandrae)
The queen of the butterflies is the largest butterfly in the world with its wings being up to 12 inches wide. The male is the prettiest with iridescent yellow, green and/or blue on a black background. The females are brown with spots that are lighter colors. They live mostly in northern Papua New Guinea in lowland forest areas. The male is very protective of its territory and will chase away large birds. Queen Alexandra is endangered and under threat due to oil palm plantations being built that ruin their habitat plus illegal collecting of the species is common as the black market pays as much as $15,000 for a pair.
Cramer’s Eighty-eight (Diaethria clymena)
Also referred to as the 88 butterfly, this unique exotic butterfly gets its name due to the pattern on its underside that is white with black stripes that look like an outlined number 88, plus a red patch that makes them stand out. They are referred to as Cramer’s because Pieter Cramer discovered them in 1775. The 88’s upperside is very different from the underside being black with diagonal bands of metallic-like blueish green. They’re mostly found in the sub-tropical Amazon rainforest. They are hard to keep your eyes on because of how active and timid they are but they will hang around human habitations searching for food.
Mourning Cloak of Oregon (Nymphalis antiopa)
The Mourning Cloak lives in North America and most prevalent in Oregon but has been seen throughout the United States down to central Mexico as well as in Europe and Eurasia. They may be the longest living butterfly making it to almost a year and because they can endure low temperatures, they are one of the first to appear even before spring. The name Mourning Cloak comes from its dark burgundy upperside resembling a mourning cloak that was worn when mourning the death of someone back in the 1700s. Around the edges is a bright yellowish border with bright blue spots between the border and the dark red color. The Mourning Cloak can be up to four inches wide with an underside that looks like tree bark that is a great camouflage to protect it from predators.
Blue Morpho (Morpho Achilles)
The beautiful blue color comes from the microscopic scales on their wings that reflect light. With the underside of the wing being a brownish color, it looks like it appears and disappears when it flies. The Blue Morpho is one of the largest species with wings that can be from five to eight inches wide. This beauty lives in the tropical forests of Latin American and is severely threatened by deforestation and habitat fragmentation. They live only 115 days but enjoy their short life tasting fruit with the sensors on their legs and smell the flowers with their antennae. They also love to soak up the sun on the top of trees so low flying pilots will be in awe of the beautiful blue as they fly over.
Apollo (Parnassius apollo)
The Apollo is also called the Mountain Apollo due to it living mostly in the mountains of Europe, Asia, and western Russia. The Apollo has a beautiful white or cream color with small black spots and two to four red spots that appear to look like eyes of animals to confuse predators. The Apollo is rarely seen anymore as it is almost extinct in the lowlands due to fragmentation, pollution, and human interference so they are legally protected in many countries but despite this, there is not enough attention given them for habitat management. Also, being one of the most beautiful butterflies they are sought out by collectors even though it is illegal to catch them.
Monarch (Danaus plexippus)
The Monarch is probably the most well-known butterfly in America with the distinct orange with black trim that has white spots and black stripes. They are also famous for their endurance as millions take the long trip that may last up to two months at a rate of 50-100 miles a day to migrate up to 3,000 miles. Their destination is the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Mexico if they live east of the Rockies or southern California if they live west of the Rockies. The Monarch is attracted to areas that grow milkweed since they lay their eggs on them and the larva feeds on them. They may be joining the endangered species list due to a decline of 90% in the last 20 years.