What images come into your mind when you think of spring? There are many things that may appear during this beautiful season – blooming flowers, budding trees, and many types of insects are a common sight. A very familiar, visual blessing is the butterfly. Butterflies are fascinating creatures that paint the landscape between spring and fall. There are about 165,000 known species that are found on every continent except Antarctica!3

Butterflies come in many various colors and types. The picture above is of an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). Have you ever seen this type of butterfly before? It is one of the most well known butterflies in the eastern United States, so there is a good chance that you have!

Are butterflies born looking like butterflies? No they aren’t! Butterflies go through a process called metamorphosis. First the egg is laid, the egg hatches producing the larva (caterpillar), it goes through the pupa stage which is also known as the resting stage, finally becoming an adult (the butterfly).

During mating, the males patrol habitats that contain plants that females lay their eggs on. The male releases a perfume-like smell to attract females. You may then see two butterflies flying together, flitting around, before landing together – this is the visual act of butterfly mating. Males also gather together in damp areas and near puddles.1 They do this to collect salts and other nutrients from the soil which is then transferred to the female during mating.2

Did you know that butterflies cannot fly when they’re cold? Butterflies are cold-blooded, meaning that they cannot regulate their internal body temperature. An ideal flying day for a butterfly is between 82°F and 100°F.2 If the temperature is under 55°F, the butterfly is flightless. They even have to shiver or lay in the sun to warm up all of its muscles on colder days!

Can you imagine that your feet actually functioned as your tongue? That is exactly the case for butterflies; they taste with their feet! They have receptors on the bottom of their feet that allow them to taste or know what they are standing on.4 When they are ready to eat, they use their proboscis, which is like a straw that stays curled underneath the butterfly’s chin.

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is just one type in a vast array of butterflies. This spring, go outside and count the many different butterflies you find! Figure out ways to catalogue your many different finds (ie, complete a drawing or write a poem). Nature is full of amazing beauty; what will you discover?

Written By Kim Burndam


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papilio_glaucus
  2. http://insects.about.com
  3. http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/butterfly
  4. http://www.lucysbutterflyfarm.com/holding.html