The colors and patterns of the wings of butterflies and moths help to protect the organisms against predators. Some species possess eyespots or other markings that draw the attention of enemies away from vital body parts to the wings. In many species, cryptic coloration-wings that look like the natural background of soil, bark, and leaves-provides camouflage, protecting the insects from visually hunting predators.
John R. MacGregor/Peter Arnold, Inc.
Long studied by amateurs who have produced a large body of biological and distributional information, butterflies have become a key test group for ecological and evolutionary research.
Wardene Weisser/Bruce Coleman Inc.
Some moth species are among the most destructive pests of crops and stored products; however, very few butterfly species attack economically important plants. Many species of butterflies and moths are directly useful to humans. The silkworm moth is the primary example; its pupal cocoon is the source of commercial silk. Some species are eaten as protein-rich food, including silk moth pupae in Asia and many caterpillars in Africa.
Few fossils of butterflies and moths are known. Two records of primitive moths, more than 70 million years old, were found in Cretaceous amber. The earliest known butterfly fossils are those from Green River Shale in Colorado; they are about 48 million years old.
Scientific classification: Butterflies and moths make up the order Lepidoptera. Sulfur butterflies are classified in the genus Colias, family Pieridae, and checkerspot butterflies in the genus Euphydryas, family Nymphalidae. Giant silkworm moths are in the genus Attacus, family Saturniidae. The silkworm moth is classified as Bombyx mori, family Bombycidae. The monarch butterfly is Danaus plexippus, family Danaidae.
Contributed by: Paul R. Ehrlich
Dennis D. Murphy