Wild Files: It’s Our Nature
By Chadd Cawson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
On March 20, spring sprung; it’s a season known for growth and transformation, so what creature better to highlight than the breathtaking butterfly? With over 18,000 species worldwide except for Antarctica, it would be impossible to highlight just one. Out of that impressive number, 187 species are found throughout British Columbia (B.C.), and in flight over the unceded territories of the Secwépemc, and Ktunaxa Peoples, and the land chosen as home by the Métis Peoples of B.C.
Butterflies are known for their beautiful painted wings and flattering flutter. They are insects belonging to the superfamily Hedyloidea and there are fossils dating back 56 million years ago (Paleocene era). Depending on the species, butterflies can range from one to 30 centimetres (cm) in size. All their iridescent colours that marvel the eyes are created by a structural coloration process that is produced through the micro-structures of their scales and hairs.
These colourful creatures undergo a four-stage life cycle. They begin as eggs which winged adults lay on plant life. Many butterfly species can taste with their feet; this allows them to know if a leaf is suitable to lay their eggs on and have its larvae feed on. During the second stage, larvae or caterpillars can have rapid growth. Once caterpillars are fully developed, pupation occurs in chrysalis (cocoon).
Once metamorphosis is complete, the skin of the sac splits and the transformed creature climbs out to spread its wings for the very first time. A butterfly’s top flight speed is just over 19 kilometres (km) an hour, yet if their body temperature is under 86 degrees Celsius (C), fight cannot take place. Their more camouflaged cousin, the moth, flaps its wings at a speed of 40 km an hour. Over 140,000 species of moths have been counted across the globe.
During the stage in which butterflies are caterpillars slinking like soldiers in a fox hole, it is very suited that a group of them are referred to as an army. What is even more fun is when they emerge in full vibrant form, (and) groups of butterflies are called kaleidoscopes. Fun fact: they see in colours of red, green, and yellow.
Going the distance
According to the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, monarch butterflies’ journey from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico is an impressive journey of 3,219 km. They return to the north again in the spring. When it comes to lifespan, the species to go the distance is the brimstone butterfly with the longest lifetime of any adult butterfly, at nine to 10 months. Most species typically only live four weeks.
Big mouth moth
The morgan sphinx moth from Madagascar has a proboscis (tube mouth) that is between 30 and 36 cm in length. This allows it to drink the nectar from a native orchid 30 cm tall, which was first discovered by English naturalist and biologist Charles Darwin in 1862. All butterflies, which live off a liquid diet, also use their much smaller proboscis to sip the sweet nectar from the flowers.
Butterflies, like many insects, have their skeletons on their outside which are referred to as exoskeletons. This protects butterflies and other insects from drying out as it keeps water in their bodies.
Balanced and beautiful
In Indigenous cultures the butterfly symbolizes many things including transformation, beauty, balance, and grace. The belief for many Indigenous Peoples is that each different-coloured butterfly carries with it, a special meaning. For example, some felt yellow butterflies carried hope, while the white indicated good luck was on the way. Many mental health organizations incorporate butterflies as a symbol of new beginnings and hope.
Chadd Cawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer