THE types of butterflies native to the world’s fields, forests and residential areas, present themselves to humans both formally and informally.
Informally, butterfly species present themselves as the colourful, winged insects associated with flowers and warm, sunny days.
Formal butterfly types commonly follows traditional scientific typology rules that organise butterflies into families,
subfamilies, genera and species based on a set of shared physical characteristics such as wing colour or shape.
The global butterfly population currently consists of six families, with experts identifying anywhere between 15 to 19 thousand different species.
Hesperiidae (skippers): The skippers, the small brownish butterflies, also get characterised by their relatively large eyes and closed wings at rest. Spreadwing skippers are the general exception to that rule.
Sometimes mistaken for moths, their clubbed antennae help identify it as a butterfly. Common names for Hesperiidae species include longtails, flashers, cloudywings, flats, sootywings, duskywings and skipperlings.
Lycaenidae (gossamer-wings): ossamer-wing butterflies, generally small in size, initially get grouped according to both colour and wing appendages. Lycanidae subfamilies, for example, go by the common names, blues, coppers and hairstreaks.
Blue butterflies (Polyommatinae), for example, share the physical characteristic of males having blue wings. Wing colour of females differs from blue to brown, depending on the species.
Often identification of blue butterflies begins with a close examination of the patterns present on the underside of the wings.
The thin, tail looking appendage on the bottom of hairstreak butterfly wings, on the other hand, usually serves as the physical characteristic uniting that subfamily. Of course, the tail looking appendage for hairstreaks represents one rule of thumb.
Nymphalidae (brush-footed butterflies): The brush-footed butterflies constitute the largest butterfly family.
Formally divided into 11 sub-families, their common names such as admirals, fritillaries, checker spots, ladies, crescents, commas and tortoiseshells ring a familiar note for most butterfly enthusiasts.
Many brush-footed butterfly species have wings with an orange colour, making a close examination of their wing patterns necessary for proper identification.
Papilionidae (swallowtails): Swallowtail butterflies the dominant Papilionidae subfamily, can often be recognised by their larger than average size and the presence of extended appendages (tails) at the bottom of their wings.
Many, but not all swallowtail butterflies have black or yellow patterned wings.
Pieridae (whites and sulphurs): The white and sulphur (yellow) butterflies, easily spotted in the field, initially get identified and sorted into the family on account of their wing colour. One of the most common white butterflies the Cabbage White butterfly, raises young that feed on garden vegetables.
Common names for Pieridae species include marbles, orange tips, yellows and dogfaces. The approximately 70 documented species makes it one of the smaller butterfly families in terms of species diversity.
Improving Rural Butterfly Habitat
Driving along any rural road or strolling the backwoods on a sunny spring or summer afternoon brings the sights and sound of nature to life, including the sighting of colourful butterflies.
New research suggests that improving rural butterfly populations may be as easy as doing nothing at all. Richard Yahner, a professor of wildlife conservation at the Pennsylvania State University recently completed a study on rural butterfly populations and said those steps include things such as farmers leaving 15-20 foot strips of land around the edges of their fields free from planting and animal grazing. Doing nothing, literally leaving the strips to go wild, fosters growth of native plants conducive to butterfly breeding and feeding. – Online